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Designing Courses: An Online Seminar

Have you ever wondered how engaging, effective courses come to look and feel the way they do? Have you ever taught a course that felt really interesting to you, but left you worrying that perhaps students hadn't learned all the things you wanted them to learn? Do you find the process of designing your own course daunting?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you may be ready for a primer on course design, which is what this online seminar provides. In this short video, Dr. Debra Rudder Lohe offers a few words of welcome and provides a bit of context for this seminar.

Welcome to the Course Design Seminar from Reinert CTTL on Vimeo.

If course design is an act of choice-making, this seminar will help you begin to select the best options for our own particular teaching situation. As an introduction to course design, this self-guided seminar will consider some basic principles of effective course design and facilitate activities guide you through the preliminary steps in designing a course of your own. By the end, you will have drafts of a few course goals and learning objectives that could be used to develop a course in your discipline.


The rest of this page will provide an overview of the online course design seminar along with some of the logistical practicalities.

Emphases and Expectations

This online seminar offers a starting point for - not an exhaustive study of - principles of effective course design. The process presented here is an example of what is often referred to as "backward design," backward because it begins with the end of the learning process: first, you identify where you want learners to end up, then you work backward from there to plan the course.

Certainly, this model is not the only approach; it is simply offers one way to design courses that has proved successful for many other educators, across a wide range of disciplines. Ultimately, this seminar is meant to be educational and generative; while it will help you to produce raw material that may serve as the foundation for a complete course syllabus in the future, you won't produce a formal syllabus in this seminar.


This seminar is aimed primarily at those new to designing courses for higher education. However, experienced instructors also may find it useful, as a refresher or as a way to gain new insights about their current approach to course design. While it has been designed intentionally for those teaching at Saint Louis University, it may be instructive for anyone designing and teaching college-level courses.

Attention CUTS Participants:

For those enrolled in the Reinert Center's Certificate in University Teaching Skills (CUTS) program: this seminar must be taken as part of a larger online seminar, Course Design, which is offered three times per year. Prerequisite: the CUTS online seminar, Teaching Philosophy.

Credit will not be given for the self-paced version of the seminar. To find out more about this requirement, please email

Note: Participants who enrolled in CUTS prior to Fall 2013 are not required to complete this online seminar. They are, however, encouraged to complete the self-guided version as they prepare course materials for their final Teaching Portfolio.

Delivery Format

This self-guided seminar is intended as a pedagogical resource to help with the preparation of course materials. It is asynchronous and can be completed at your own pace. At the end of the seminar, you will have an opportunity to provide feedback on your experience.


The seminar is structured sequentially, with later concepts and activities building on earlier ones. Those new to designing courses may find it beneficial to work through the lessons and activities in order. However, those looking for a refresher or those retaking this seminar, may find it appropriate to skip earlier lessons and activities.


Content for this seminar is drawn from a variety of pedagogical resources and is fully referenced. Concepts covered are aligned with the seminar goals and learning objectives and are linked directly to specific activities. Content is delivered in several formats: written content, short audio and video files, and Word documents. Audio and video files all have transcripts in PDF format for accessibility.


Throughout the seminar, you will be asked to pause and reflect on content and concepts covered, as well as on your own experiences and assumptions. Using guided exercises and worksheets, you also will generate content that may serve as the foundation for future course planning activities.

As you work your way through the seminar, you will find it helpful to have a notepad and pen or a blank Word document open. Periodically, you will be asked to jot things down; later, you may be asked to return to them and do more with them. Find some way to capture your ideas and your thinking as you go, so that you have a record of your progress through the seminar.

A Note about Sample Course Materials

For those new to course design, it can be tempting to simply adapt others' course materials to suit your own purposes. However, while models are clearly valuable, we invite you to do some work on your own before you consult others' examples.

Course materials (e.g., course descriptions, syllabi, assignments, etc.) are intellectual property, like any other creative and scholarly work, and we encourage you to begin with your own way of conceptualizing and representing your course. As the verb design implies, there is an art, a creative process, to developing courses.

Logistical Matters

This seminar is designed for use with a standard web browser and standard audio and video players.

If you encounter difficulties with or have questions about the seminar, feel free to email

If you wish to link to the seminar, please contact Mary Cook at to secure permission.

- Continue to: Part 1: Getting Started

Credits & Acknowledgments

This online seminar was developed by the staff of the Paul C. Reinert, S.J. Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning at Saint Louis University.

Seminar content was adapted from an Effective Teaching Seminar on Course Design, which Debra Rudder Lohe developed for the Reinert Center's Certificate in University Teaching Skills program. Seminar design was the result of collaboration between Jerod Quinn, Katie Beres, and Debra Lohe. Jerod Quinn designed and developed the website.

Copyright 2013


This seminar is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.