Chapter One: Course Plans

Schedule of classes

Now that I know what I have to teach, I can create the course schedule—the things that happen throughout the course. This schedule includes details around the course dates, in-class exercises, out-of-class expectations, and when assignments are due.

In-class activities describe what a student can expect to experience when they are in class; these include discussions, presentations, and other activities. By listing the items a student will encounter, students can set expectations about the demeanor and tone of the class, and they can come prepared to participate in each unique type of educational interaction.

Out-of-class activities describe what a student is required to do when they aren’t present in the classroom. These typically include course readings, homework, and group discussions. By listing these items, students can manage their schedule to ensure that they are prepared for each individual meeting time.

Assignment due dates are important to list so a student can structure a methodical, thoughtful, step-by-step approach to their course output. These artifacts act as the core assessable items, and so students should be able to best plan around producing quality output.

Drawing the timeline

To build the course schedule, I first sketch a long horizontal line on a large sheet of butcher paper.

Next, while keeping in mind the course outcomes, I look at the things I need to teach and try to assess how long it will take me to teach them. In our example above about learning to draw digital interfaces, I need to teach students to draw using various forms of line-weight. I think this will take two classes—one for them to become comfortable holding the pen and making marks, and one to learn about pressure and different forms of drawing tools. I’ll draw a bar that spans the two classes, creating a simple Gantt-style visualization of time passing.

To decide that this would take two classes, I imagine (role-play) what I will cover in each class, and how students will respond to it. My inner dialogue sounds something like this:

What does it mean to get comfortable holding a pen and making marks? They’ll need to see an example from me, hear me describe how to do it, but most importantly, they’ll need to practice. I can imagine them drawing lines, and then circles, and then trying more complicated things like coffee cups. They’ll need lots of practice. Since classes are two hours long, I expect them to draw for almost 3.5 hours.

Now, I’ll pepper in the various in-class and out-of-class activities that I want students to experience as they begin to build towards a given outcome. My goal is to highlight progress and show how one set of learning activities leads to another, and how students slowly build mastery of an idea through exploration, practice, and assessment.

This is an iterative process of planning. I’ll cross out components and redraw them, work backwards to re-evaluate my methodology, and even question and recast the outcome statements. I use big paper and a sharpie because it emphasizes that the curriculum is in-flux—it’s not done yet, and I can freely change things. I also use big paper so that I can get a sense for the whole even while focusing on the details. I’ve found that jumping onto the computer in a tool like Excel or a project management tool like Smartsheets forces me to be myopic. When I work on the computer, I’m less likely to completely abandon an idea, start again, or treat my ideas like drafts. So, I try to stay on paper as long as I can.

Above, I described how I create a visual timeline of each class. I also put together a visual timeline of the entire course of study, giving students a way to understand how a single class lives in the context of all other classes. I give this visualization to students on the first day of class, and then hang a poster of it on the wall in the studio so they can refer to it over and over.

Austin Center for DesignCurriculum Visualization

Curriculum Visualization

An end-to-end course visualization to help students track their progress.

Grading opportunities

Eventually, I become comfortable enough with the timeline structure I’ve drawn and the outcomes I’ve identified to think about assessment opportunities, which are places where I can grade the student’s progress.

Grading opportunities are places where I can see if a student is showing competency in a given area. This might be a natural stopping point in an ongoing project, a written essay, a formal test, or a design exercise. It doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road—I believe in having more, but smaller grading opportunities throughout the course. This gives students a chance to correct their behavior if they aren’t doing a good job or aren’t learning the concepts.

Let’s stub out where grades may live on the course schedule. This means defining where those key grading interventions make the most sense.

Earlier, we dedicated two classes towards learning how to hold a pen and making marks. As a result of these two classes, I want students to achieve the outcome statement we defined:

Be able to quickly sketch ideas for interfaces by hand

So, after those two classes, it seems like an appropriate time to insert some form of assessment to see how they are progressing towards that outcome. I’ll add an indicator to the timeline that after those two classes would be a good time to have an assignment due.

I discuss assessment in more depth later, but for now, simply adding the assessment moments to the timeline is enough.