Course Design for Improving Student Success

Community Contributor

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Name: Sabine Zabarovska

Institution: Northeast Mississippi Community College


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Goals for Course Design

At Northeast Mississippi Community College, instructors use Canvas heavily, both in the classroom and for online instruction. We needed a way to provide instructors with an example of a consistent and easy-to-use course design. We wanted to take the good work they are already doing and find ways to model and refine how we could improve the consistency and design of content inside of Canvas. To do this, we had to have a way to showcase how good design should be presented, provide an asynchronous learning experience, and chunk content in a way that it was easy for instructors to participate during short breaks between teaching classes. We also wanted a way for instructors to share with other instructors and create an engaging and interactive design for assessments inside of the course. 

Course Design Review Process

We use a review process that includes both division heads and the eLearning office where we focus on a set of core evaluation standards to ensure the ongoing improvement of course design. Both departments have checks and balances of duties instructors need to complete to help students be successful and informed. We also have evaluation standards that have us dive into the course design and provide opportunities for feedback. To ensure this ongoing improvement, Northeast has adopted the Quality Matters standards for best practices for designing online courses. Through the Quality Matters standards and our own evaluation process, we found areas of focus that helped guide the objectives and goals for the Course Design for Improving Student Success. Some of these focus areas were:

  • help students have the right start to online courses,
  • create standard language and formats for course syllabi,
  • ensure the structure and organization of online courses (easy to use and find content),
  • help instructors understand the application of assignments and organizing assignments,
  • strategies for creating an accessible and usable course design for content

Course Design Process

We found a need on our campus and tackled it by looking at what our goals are for the instructors at the end of the training. From there the design began right before closures occurred. Our first pilot occurred during COVID closures, so this did make it challenging to get the participation needed but allowed us to still implement and analyze what needed improving before continuing launching the training. It is an ongoing process of continuous improvement, just like we want to see for the design of our online courses.

This course design is used for training instructors. We have experienced instructors and new instructors who have participated in this course. It has also been shared with small groups and is being integrated into professional development opportunities for current and new faculty at the institution.

One of the strongest aspects of this course design is ensuring that the content was digestible in small bits. The most effective part of this course design was making sure videos and content were focused and directed student learning to their objectives. Outside of basic tools in Canvas, we used three main tools to assist in creating the content for the course. First, to help create a consistent look and feel, the graphics were created using Canva. This is a mostly free tool that is user-friendly for anyone - even if you do not have a design background. Second, to record and edit videos for the course, we used Camtasia. Camtasia makes it easy to record and edit videos. The third tool was Canvas Studio. We utilized Studio to deliver the videos and created quizzes within the Studio tool. This allowed us to track learners, see where they may be getting stuck, or if they needed more help. 

During the design process, I felt the most important thing I learned was to have a clear-cut plan from the beginning. Although there is nothing wrong from veering from that plan, if you do not start with your goal in mind or objectives for the learners, the process can become less focused and more overwhelming. It can be easy to get excited about designing content and sharing your knowledge, but before diving into the content or look and feel, you have to stop and map it all out. Sometimes with so many ideas and options, you can let yourself be geared away from what the learner really needs at the end.

An important design aspect to us was creating real-world applicable assessments. Instructors, like everyone, are stretched for time, so we wanted to give them steps to apply what they were learning directly within their courses. These activities were easy to integrate and use. In fact, most instructors started integrating the changes right away or a template for future courses. We did not want to give them busy work but something that was meaningful and could be applied immediately.


When beginning a new design or updating a design, what are three things you recommend designers do to improve the end-product?

  1. Before you dive into designing a course, one of the things I would suggest is to have a plan. Map out the plan ahead of time to make sure you have clear objectives and the design and activities are aligned to those objectives. It will help the course stay on track and be meaningful.
  2. Break down the content. Too much gets overwhelming. Sometimes we want to tell students or learners every step on one page. It is important to break it down, so they do not skip ahead as easily and take time to look at the content in the intended way you designed it.
  3. Make it engaging. Find ways to get the learners to interact and share. We all can learn from each other. A good design involves everyone. As you design content, you can learn the most from listening and being a part of the interaction. 


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