Course Design Checklist

While not a checklist per se, this guide provides some key considerations when designing your course. As an overview, we encourage you to approach course design by ensuring:

  • You have an essential statement
  • You’ve articulated your learning outcomes
  • You provide an orientation to the course and have strong, transparent, communication with students
  • You use backward design principles to scaffold:
    • Your assessments first
    • Instructional materials in support of that student work
    • And technologies integrated in service of those materials and assessments
  • Learners know where and how they can get support
  • Equitability and accessibility in all of the above

From the very outset, you should keep your Learning Outcomes (or Objectives, or Competencies) transparent. Articulate these to students. These outcomes should also be tied to an essential statement.

From there, have a means to provide a Course Overview and Introduction. Use this as way to welcome students and introduce the course. One recommendation is to use a “welcome” module in Canvas or a “unit zero” in a distance environment. Face-to-face it is worthwhile devoting a part of the first class period to this important foundation. Introduce yourself and let students know what your preferred methods of communication are. Provide students an opportunity to introduce themselves and build community. Your primary goal in providing this overview is transparency at the course level.

From here, we recommend working ‘backwards.’ In fact, we recommend a practice called Backward Design. Backward design ensures that you have ‘scaffolded‘ your course: that technologies support materials, communication, and activities; that formative student work supports summative student work; and that all of this is in service of those larger learning outcomes (and assessing whether students have met them).

As you work backward from objectives, the first thing to consider is your assessments. Consider how you seek to measure or assess student learning. Consider ways you may use multiple means of assessment as you design your assignments and activities. Don’t look only at ‘final’ or ‘summative’ assessments, but also consider formative assessments—what will students do to practice or develop as learners along the way.

Ask, then, which instructional materials are necessary in service of that learning. Select content and materials that hit multiple marks. Also consider whether materials are accessible. Use the principles of Universal Design for Learning to ensure equal access to materials.

Moving down the chain of backward design, which technologies are necessary to meet your objectives? This can be a challenge to assess objectively because, let’s face it, technology can be cool. Remember that every technology has a trade-off and return to Universal Design principles as a guide. You’re likely to need to get started with Canvas if you’re not already familiar with it.

Finally, what learner support is available? Be sure to provide this information in your syllabus and in your course where relevant. Include information at all levels. The subject matter (a textbook or you), the course (probably you, the instructor), the student (accessibility services, campus health services, the dean of students), the materials (the library, the bookstore, Canvas support), the technologies (Canvas support, GBIT, etc.), and so on.

Then, of course, for each of the topics above, it is always important to remember accessibility and usability from a very practical standpoint but also diversity, equity, and inclusion from a larger perspective. A course is only effective if it is effective for all learners.

To work through any of these topics as you design your course, regardless of which stage you are in in its development, please schedule a CATL consultation or reach out to us at