Transparency in Course DesignSubmitted by Jonathan Loos, Kinesiology & Health Education

Want to help your students understand the importance of attending class, how to prepare for class, how to take notes and review materials, and how to take exams? Providing them with a clear understanding of the course design helps them learn how to learn in your discipline and also gives them a framework for learning in other courses.


Demonstrating the need to be in class can be as simple as showing a diagram of an important concept such as the human movement system and asking students how they would make meaning of this on their own versus their understanding of the concept after an in-depth explanation from an instructor with some class discussion. Students inevitably appreciate the benefit of being in class as opposed to trying to understand the material on their own. Streamlining content to the most important information students need and explicitly tying exam questions to the materials in class also reinforces that being in class is preparing for exams and helps them understand the connection between course attendance and success.


Rather than repeat information on each module that can be found in the textbook or online through a long lecture, students benefit from participating in an activity related to the module first. After they have had a chance to explore the concepts, debriefing with a few slides that go into more depth with the content increases their understanding of what they just experienced. Allowing them to work with the concepts first increases their interest and helps them develop questions that can be answered in the debriefing segment of the class session once the activity has concluded. This model also helps students who glaze over during a traditional lecture and discussion by providing hands-on activities and social flow.


Coaching students on what may seem to be obvious steps they should take to prepare for lecture promotes healthy habits for learning. Reminding students that printing lecture slides ahead of time so that they can annotate them during class also ensures that everyone is ready to make meaning from the materials once they get to class. Explaining how the material will be assessed on the exam and walking through example exam questions helps them know what to study and how to approach test questions for the course and ultimately for a vocational certification or licensing exam. For multiple choice exam questions, students learn through low stakes quizzes that they might be able to thin out the obvious wrong answer, but the correct answer is obscured between two possible right answers separated by a specific detail. They quickly learn that superficial knowledge will not allow them to identify that best answer the way that a deep understanding of the material would.


As students learn how to learn in the course, their chances of scoring higher on the final exam increases. The opportunity to take the higher of the overall exam score or the comprehensive final exam score motivates students who may have started the course without the skills to study and perform well on exams. If their attendance in the course is strong, rounding to the next letter grade is a possibility, which further motivates them to make it to class.

Once students realize that the material in class is relevant and that they will be more prepared by working with the material in class, they will be actively engaged in learning experiences meant to help them understand the material. When students see the benefit from academic coaching, they want to attend class, rather than viewing attendance as jumping through a hoop.

These elements are certainly true of most courses, but transparency in course design helps students gain awareness of what they are supposed to do, and how doing so will improve their learning and performance. When these elements are realized, students are more likely to engage in the process you have planned for them.

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