Course Goals

Week Three Activities (due February 28):

  1. Sign up for a Diigo social bookmarking account.
  2. Use advanced Google search to find syllabi of courses related to yours.
  3. Draft the goals for your course in a Google Doc and comment on others.
  4. Write a blog post about course goals.

(Don’t forget to let us know of your progress in the “progress self-report” file.)


We hope your learning is going well. Just keep swimming!


Tech tools are just a means to an end. Teaching well online–just as in face-to-face classes–means thinking about your goals first and then seeing what techniques and tools are available to help you achieve them.  (Remember the discussion of content/ pedagogical/ technological knowledge from the first week’s overview?)  This week we consider a few “big ideas” about pedagogy (rather than technology), while starting some practical hands-on work for your own course that uses some tech tools.

What are the goals of the class you will be teaching online?  What will students know and–more importantly–what will they be able to do that they couldn’t do before?  How much choice will students have in what they learn? Every instructor needs to clarify those sorts of “big picture” questions early on in designing a class. The answers you come up with have profound implications for everything that follows.

Instructors don’t always fully control the answers to these questions. Depending upon the course and the discipline, particular material might need to be included in a certain course because of departmental requirements, the expected progression through a program, eventual licensure requirements, and so on. We understand that and we trust that you will incorporate these expectations into your course goals as needed.

However, with every course the instructor has at least some–and often enormous–flexibility in the topics addressed and the approach used to explore them. Your unique approach is part of what makes you indispensable as an instructor. This week we ask you to step back and think about course goals. If you’ve already taught the class you’re working on for OLE, this will involve reviewing and perhaps revising your goals.  If this is a new class for you, this will be a great place to start planning what you want to accomplish.

In particular, we’d like you to think hard about structuring your course to encourage life-long learning skills and to put the process of learning–not just information–at the center of the class.  In a digital world, students have a wealth of ever-changing information at their fingertips.  Part of what they need to learn is how to find, critically assess, and apply that information in ways that are meaningful to them.  These critical thinking and communication skills have always been at the heart of engaging education.  But in a networked world, the nature of these tasks have changed somewhat.

Here’s an example. Lisa Phipps, a pharmacist and ALT Lab’s faculty liaison to the health and life sciences, including the MCV campus, has taught in many different contexts but keeps coming back to some basics.

Here a few brief readings that explore related issues.  They are food for thought as you plan your course.

  • “A New Pedagogy is Emerging…And Online Learning is a Key Contributing Factor.”  This broad overview does a nice job of arguing that, “In all the discussion about … the benefits and challenges of online learning, perhaps the most important issues concern how technology is changing the way we teach and – more importantly – the way students learn.”
  • Everything You Know About Curriculum May Be Wrong.  Really.”  In this blog post, Grant Wiggins suggests “let’s see what results if we think of action, not knowledge, as the essence of an education; let’s see what results from thinking of future ability, not knowledge of the past, as the core; let’s see what follows, therefore, from thinking of content knowledge as neither the aim of curriculum nor the key building blocks of it but as the offshoot of learning to do things now and for the future.”
  • What’s Worth Learning in School?”  “We teach a lot that isn’t going to matter, in a significant way, in students’ lives…There’s also much we aren’t teaching that would be a better return on investment.”  David Perkins’ book, Future Wise, is mostly about K-12 but how might the issues raised in this article about the book apply to higher education?

After you’ve read these, let’s get to work!

Activity #1:  Sign Up for a Diigo Account

Diigo (pronounced Dee’-go) is a social bookmarking tool that allows you to save, tag, share, and annotate resources you’ve found on the Internet.  It’s another one of those tools that may not be immediately obvious why you’d want to use it, but it becomes more helpful the more you use it. It is invaluable for archiving and retrieving resources for your online teaching.  Instructors often frantically search for content to use just before a course starts.  If you get into the habit of saving online materials via Diigo, you’ll always have a library of content to choose from.  Here’s a school teacher talking about why she uses Diigo.

  1. Sign up for a basic free account that allows you to tag and save content. (Premium plans offer more features for a fee.)
  2. Then add a free “teacher” account, that will enable you to share your bookmarks.
  3. Explore the browser extensions and add-ons that make Diigo especially easy to use.  (We’re partial to the Diigo Extension for Chrome but there are others.)
  4. Look under “groups” in Diigo to find and join the ALT Lab group.  (Your request to join will need to be approved.) You’ll see a wide variety of teaching and technology related items we share with each other in ALT Lab and beyond.

Practice using Diigo a little.  You’ll use it in the next activity.

Activity #2:  Advanced Internet searching

In this activity, you’ll research some existing course syllabi, keeping in mind the readings you’ve done.

  1. Go to “Search for Syllabi – Google.”
  2. Find at least three syllabi from other instructors of the equivalent (or something close) of your course, paying special attention to the course goals / learning objectives of these syllabi.
  3. Save these to your Diigo library for future reference with a appropriate tags.

Activity #3:  Draft your goals…and comment on others’

  1. Go into the OLE Shared Materials for Participants folder (open in Drive), and then into a new sub-folder labelled “Course Goals etc.” Create a new google doc with your NAME and COURSE in the title.  (You’ll be using this document to keep notes on your course development.)
    • List the name of your class and describe your course goals in one sentence.  This should capture the essence of your class.
    • Briefly note at least 3-5 of the most important sub-goals for your course.
  2. Now draft an alternative version of your goals by transforming your current predetermined goals into core questions that students will explore in the course. (Here are some examples for tips on crafting good questions.)  You’ll now have two different versions of of your course goals.
  3. When other participants have started to contribute their material, explore a few of them and use the “comment” feature of Google Docs to make observationsmake observations and ask questions of your colleagues.  Are their goals clear?  Do they inspire interest on your part?  Do questions work better than statements in this context or not?  Why?  etc.
  4. If you get comments on your goals, make any revisions you think are warranted.  Feel free to flesh out your goals fully.

Activity #4:  Share your thoughts

Write a blog post sharing your thoughts on course goals generally and/or your course goals in particular.  For example, you might consider one or more of the following:

  • How did the background articles relate (or not) to your own course?  Did they spark some thoughts on how you think about course goals?
  • What did you find in the syllabi you looked at?
    • Were the course goals in the syllabi information-centric or did they highlight life-long learning skills?
    • Do you think students would find these goals clear and engaging?  (Why or why not?)
    • Will students be encouraged to apply new knowledge and skills to topics that interest them, allowing for variation?  Or are all the learning objectives pre-defined and uniform for all students?
    • Were you surprised by anything you found?
    • Are there things you might want to adopt (or avoid!) from these for your own course?
  • What do your own course goals look like in relation to the questions above?

Don’t forget to check the proper OLE-S16  category before you publish your post; that’s how your post will be syndicated to this site.