Reflections on the Course Design Institute


OPINION | Published 18 May 2022

Course Design Institute: three people collaborating around table

Ever wanted to take time from your busy schedule to think about ways of improving and refining your course? You might not need as much time as you think.

The Course Design Institute (CDI) led by Associate Professor Julian Cox and Dr Alex Bannigan was held during Flexi-Week in T1 2022. Hosting 34 teaching staff all willing to give up their time to work on improving their courses for their students, the CDI provided an intensive 5-day think-fest on topics ranging from Backward Design, Learner-Centred Teaching, and Threshold Concepts. The program culminated with a poster presentation from each participant about the changes they’d made to their respective courses. By the end of it all, everyone was buzzing.

Wanting to get the most out of the CDI, I booked a hotel not far from the UNSW Kensington campus—the lovely Alison Randwick. This was to avoid the long commute each day from the Central Coast. (Hello to all the Coasties at UNSW!) Over the course of five days, I was then able to refine and align my learning outcomes, create a signature assessment item, and meet some brilliant educators who were all dedicated to improving student learning.

GENY0002 Course Image

As part of the program, I worked on GENY0002: Academic Skills Plus—a 6 unit of credit GEN-Ed subject that runs twice each year (See also: GENY0003). The program is designed to teach undergraduate students the skills required for academic success at university. These include essay writing, researching, note-taking, presenting, critical thinking, referencing and more. One of the challenges of this course is finding new and engaging ways to teach these skills and to encourage students to develop them on their own. Another challenge is trying to create assessments that students will see the value of.

Luckily, I was introduced to the concept of Backward Design, which encourages teachers to think about their course learning goals, first and foremost. What do I want my students to walk away with after completing my course? What will they remember in five years’ time? What learning experiences can I create to make the best course ever? How can lessons help students perform successfully in their assessments? These questions helped me develop a new assessment item, create lesson plans and learning outcomes, and completely changed the way I thought about course development.

Thanks to the Course Design Institute, I now have a new perspective on ways to improve a course. I also realised that pedagogy and passion can unite to improve student learning in ways I would not have known otherwise.

For more information on Academic Skills Plus and how you can help your students succeed at university, visit the Academic Skills Plus page.


About the author:

James Bedford Headshot Image

Dr James Bedford, Academic Learning Facilitator, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Education & Student Experience Portfolio

James Bedford is an Academic Learning Facilitator at the University of New South Wales. He is a published author and was a visiting doctoral student at the Oxford Centre for Life Writing. He holds a PhD in Creative Writing and lives on the Central Coast of NSW.


Apply for the Course Design Institute August intake!

At the end of this five-day intensive program you will walk away with a redesigned unit or topic, and a plan for a more student-centred and engaging course, beautifully aligned to create a significant learning experience for your students.
Please note: The August CDI will take place the same week as the EF Retreat.

Applications close 19 June 2022

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