Factors to Consider

Before beginning to design your course, we recommend that you consider a number of factors about the situation, including:

  1. Characteristics of the learners
  2. Characteristics of the teacher
  3. Nature of the subject/discipline
  4. Nature/particular context of the course
  5. Accessibility (Universal Design for Learning)

Gathering information about and reflecting on these things—some probably more relevant than others, for your particular course—can inform important course design decisions. Even if you teach from a syllabus that your department provides, it is still helpful to consider some of these elements when determining your teaching strategies and planning community-building initiatives.

For example, if your course is an advanced course for students aiming to enter a certain profession, you could design opportunities for students to connect with professionals working in the field. Or, if there is new knowledge emerging in your field that is changing the way scholars understand the subject matter, you can design class activities and assignments around these turning points.

Characteristics of the learners

  • age, gender, cultural/linguistic background, family and work situations
  • other involvement, such as student clubs leadership
  • program of study, year in program, background knowledge and experience
  • educational goals, professional goals, life goals, attitudes about the efficacy of the course/subject/program, and
  • expectations about classroom norms and preferred learning styles

In other words, it’s worth considering what the students are going to be able to bring to the class. These factors will affect the kind of workload and activities your students are ready for, the teaching styles they’ll respond to best, the richness and number of potential complications in classroom dynamics, and the level of work they’re prepared to handle.

Characteristics of the teacher

  • philosophy of teaching
  • preferred teaching strategies
  • attitude toward/beliefs about the students
  • level of knowledge of the subject
  • level of experience teaching this course or similar courses
  • sphere of involvement in the department/program/institution
  • professional contacts in the field
  • level of departmental/institutional support for teaching

In other words, it’s worth considering what you are going to be able to bring to the class. Being conscious of these factors will help you decide what learning goals you want the students to pursue, what work you need to do before the course begins (and while the course is running) to be ready to teach, what materials and subjects you want to include in the course, and what particular insights and opportunities you’re able to provide.

Nature of the subject or discipline

  • contested or newly developing knowledge/practices in the subject/discipline
  • types of teaching strategies frequently used to teach this subject
  • types of tasks a professional in this discipline frequently carries out

If there is new knowledge emerging in your field that is changing the way scholars understand the subject matter, you can design class activities and assignments around these turning points; if you have access to successful teaching strategies and activities that have been used in this discipline in the past, you may want to use them yourself; you can also consider having students engage in activities similar to what professionals do in the field.

Particular context of the course

  • level of the course
  • required/elective nature of the course
  • place of the course in a sequence
  • attitude of department/program toward the course
  • number of students in the course
  • frequency and location of course meetings, mode(s) of instruction
  • threshold concepts the course will include

Thinking through these factors will help you to decide what material (and what level of material) to cover; what opportunities to include—if you’re teaching an advanced course for students aiming to enter a particular profession, for example, you could design opportunities for students to connect with professionals working in the field; how much to emphasize lectures or class discussions; and how to divide up the material across the length of the semester, among other things.

Accessibility (Universal Design for Learning)

  • making teaching materials accessible in various formats (digital, print, lectures/discussions with visuals and speaking) as a general practice, not just when a student with a disability enrolls in your course
  • when possible, selecting content, teaching strategies, and materials that reflect a wide range of traditions, perspectives and lived experiences
  • For more information on this, please visit our Universal Design for Learning page.

Please reach out to us at cndls@georgetown.edu if you'd like to have a conversation with someone at CNDLS about these or other teaching issues.