Curriculum & Program Development

The Centre for Learning, Innovation and Simulation (CLIS) provides a wide range of programs, services and resources to help faculty develop, refine and reflect on their teaching.  These include confidential individual or group consultation services.  Please contact us if you are interested in a conversation with a CLIS consultant on topics such as:

  • Engaging students or building active learning in your course
  • Gathering mid-semester student feedback
  • Interpreting your course-faculty evaluations
  • In-class teaching observation
  • Developing performance-based assessment tools

To schedule your session please submit the CLIS Consultation Intake Form

Thoughtful design is your recipe for a successful course or program.  Using a Backwards Design approach is the best way to build a strong program or course.

Principles of Curriculum Design & Development

Using the Backwards Design approach, the professor first identifies what they want students to be able to do by the time they finish the course. These are the course competencies and should be based off of external standards for the profession. The course competencies must be appropriate for the level of students being taught, observable, measurable and achievable within the time frame of the course. Learning objectives must also be identified that support the course competencies. From here, the professor should decide on the evidence they will need to ensure that students have achieved those goals. This is the assessment strategy and contains the criteria students would need to meet in order to be successful in demonstrating competency for each course competency. Next, the professor will decide on what learning activities will support the student achieve the course competencies by the end of the course.

To learn more curriculum design at the Course or Program level? Contact our Instructional Design Specialist, Andrea Dyack at

The following ideas are adapted from Riviere, J., Picard, D. R., & Coble, R. (2016) and Cornell University (2017).

A Course Outline serves many functions in class. At Michener, there are at least 14 elements of a learner-centered course outline.

  • Instructor and Class Information: Instructor name, email, phone, office location, office hours, meeting times and course website. This section establishes an early point of contact and connection between student and faculty
  • Course Information: Course number, course title, course description, total credits and total hours. This section helps set the tone for the course and acquaints students with course logistics.
  • Pre/Corequesites: for example “completion of all Fall courses”. This section will list the courses that need to be completed prior in order to be successful in the current course. This sets the course in a broader context for learning.
  • Textbooks: Author. Title. Publisher. Copyright. Edition: ISBN: Required/Recommended. This section provides students with the details needed to obtain reading material for the course.
  • Learning Supplies: Name, manufacturer, quantity required. This can include material that supports learning inside and outside the classroom.
  • Core Abilities: There are six core abilities that have been defined for all Michener students. These represent skills which all students will obtain from being enrolled at Michener.
  • External Standards: come from you National College. You course outline should list the items covered in your course.
  • Program Outcomes: should be consistent throughout the entire program. List the program outcomes that are supported through your course.
  • Course Competencies: These are the goals that can be achieved by students by the end of the course. Competencies are based off of external standards, but are written using Bloom’s Taxonomy. There should be 3 to 6 competencies per course.
  • Learning Objectives: These are the goals that support each of your competencies. They are written using Bloom’s Taxonomy and there should be 2 to 10 learning objectives per competency.
  • Course Grading Information: required mark to pass the course (e.g., 60%) and grading rationale. This section helps define student responsibilities for successful coursework.
  • Policies: all course outline must contain the standard wording for Academic Policies and Policy Statement. Other options might include attendance, academic integrity, accessibility, class participation, etc. It is recommended that faculty include policies as appropriate, so that students are aware of resources available to them (see details below).
  • Class Schedule: this includes the Date/Session (week of semester), competencies supported in each week, learning activities (description of topics covered) and PAT details (PAT number & name).
  • Performance Assessment Tasks: the requirements for all graded or required aspects of the course, including exams, quizzes, assignments, etc. Directions, target course competencies, scoring standard (how the student will be successful in completing the PAT), rating scale and scoring guide (rubric) are all mandatory components of a course outline.

Writing a Course Outline that contains all of these items is important as it serves a legal document and a learning contract between you and your students. In order to support faculty in the creation of learner-centred course outlines, a number of resources have been created to help.

Good Course Outlines rely on thoughtful course design

Using a Backwards Design approach is the best way to build a solid course and a strong course outline. Using this method, the professor first identify what they want students to be able to do by the time they finish the course. These are the course competencies and should be based off of external standards for the profession. The course competencies must be appropriate for the level of students being taught, observable, measurable and achievable within the time frame of the course. Learning objectives must also be identified that support the course competencies. From here, the professor should decide on the evidence they will need to ensure that students have achieved those goals. This is the assessment strategy and contains the criteria students would need to meet in order to be successful in demonstrating competency for each course competency. Next, the professor will decide on what learning activities will support the student achieve the course competencies by the end of the course.

If you would like support in modifying or creating your course outline, book a consultation with our Instructional Design Specialist, Andrea Dyack at

The tone of your Course Outline can affect learners

The course outline is often the first introduction a student may have to you as a professor and to the content of a course (Riviere, J., Picard, D. R., & Coble, R., 2016). Saville et al. (2010) explored student responses to course outlines and concluded that students associate a detailed course outline with the qualities of a master teacher (as cited in Riviere, J., Picard, D. R., & Coble, R., 2016).

In addition, warm and cold language in a course outline affect student perceptions of their professor. Warm language might include statements like “I hope you actively participate in this course. I have found it is the best way to engage you in learning the material (and it makes lectures more fun)”, compared to cold language which may express the same idea in a different way, like “Come prepared to actively participate in this course. It is the best way to learn the material (and makes lectures more interesting”. Harnish and Bridges (2011) found that students are more likely to rate the professor using warm language as more approachable and more motivated to teach.

To set the tone for your course, consider (Cornell University, 2017; Nilson, 2010):

  • Sharing your teaching philosophy.
  • Announcing your office hours and location.
  • Sharing some information about yourself, such as your educational and professional background.
  • Describing how the course relates to the program, discipline, or field.
  • Providing information about campus services that can aid students with their studies.
  • Reflecting on the overall tone of your writing: is it encouraging or punitive?

Motivate your students to refer to the course outline

  • Be strategic in where you place the course outline.  Make sure it is posted on your Blackboard course site for easy access by students.
  • If a student asks questions that the course outline answers, ask the student to find the answer on the spot using the posted course outline.
  • Have students review the course outline in class and ask them to contribute to suggestions for changes.
  • Introduce the course outline in class as a learning activity.  Conduct a jigsaw activity or have students create a visual representation of what the course is about.

Jigsaw (Cornell University, 2017):

  1. Break the course outline into different sections
  2. Divide students into small groups
  3. Give each group a different section of the syllabus for review – their goal is to become experts on their section
  4. Reform the groups so that each group includes a member from each of the previous expert groups
  5. Have the experts teach their section of the syllabus to their new groups

Visual Representation:

  1. Divide students into small groups
  2. Have them review the course outline in class and discuss what they think the course is about
  3. Give each group a piece of flip chart paper and markers
  4. Ask the students to visually represent their understandings of the course.
  5. Have each small group present back to the class about how they represented key course features.

Resources that can support you

  • The Centre for Learning, Innovation and Simulation offers one-on-one consultations to faculty.  Make an appointment with our Instructional Design Specialist, Andrea Dyack at or come by to see us!
  • Download a copy of our Course Outline Template


  • Cornell University. (2017). Writing a Syllabus .
  • Harnisch, Richard J. and K. Robert Bridges. (2011).  “Effect of Syllabus Tone: Students’ Perceptions of Instructor and Course.” Social Psychology Education, 14, 319-330.
  • Riviere, J., Picard, D. R., & Coble, R. (2016). Syllabus Design Guide. Retrieved [2017]
  • Saville, Bryan K., Tracy E. Zinn, Allison R. Brown, and Kimberly A. Marchuk. (2010). “Syllabus Detail and Students’ Perceptions of Teacher Effectiveness.” Teaching of Psychology, 37:3, 186-189.
  • Nilson, L.B. (2010). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors (3rd. ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

The following materials were produced by Michener and adapted with the permission of



Major skills, knowledge or attitudes that are measurable and observable; field or discipline specific outcomes addressed at the learning plan (lesson) level. Samples: Use active listening skills, write a narrative, adjust automotive brakes, prepare an income statement, analyze costs that affect food service, solve quadratic equations, examine the impact of WWII on the family.

What are competencies for?

Competencies provide an organizing framework for planning and implementing a learning experience. They are the intended outcomes of learning experiences. Since they describe what you want learners to be able to do, they must be stated in observable measurable terms.


  • Determine what content you will teach.
  • Tell what you want your learners to be able to do with what they know at the end of the learning experience
  • Drive a course. Teachers design assignments and assessments around competencies.

Competency Domains

Benjamin Bloom identified three domains of learning: cognitive, psychomotor, and affective. They are referred to as Bloom’s Taxonomy. Cognitive: Focuses on thinking or knowledge. Psychomotor: Focuses on doing or performing. Affective: Focuses on the development of attitudes and interests. Competencies can be written in any of the domains.

Cognitive Domain

Performance statements in the cognitive domain can be placed into one of six levels. Because the definition of a competency implies the application of knowledge, typically they are written at the APPLYING level or above on Bloom’s Taxonomy. (That means they are not written at either the Remembering or Understanding level.) The Verb Library in the WIDS software allows you to search the library by domain and level.

Competency Checklist

  • Describe what you want learners to do with what they know at the end of the learning experience (applying level or above on Bloom’s Taxonomy)
  • Begin with an action verb (one verb)
  • Are measurable and observable
  • Are clear and concise (short)
  • Describe the learner’s performance
  • Require the application of content
  • Can be accomplished within the timeframe of the learning experience (3-6 competencies per credit or 9-18 hours of learning)
  • Often result in a product, a service, decision, or a performance
  • Become the target of a learning plan

Sample Competencies

  • Conduct a patient interview
  • Recommend diagnostic procedures
  • Implement infection control strategies
  • Apply conflict resolution strategies
  • Measure EKG
  • Evaluate the care plan
  • Compare primary tissue types of the body

Learning Objectives


Supporting skills, knowledge and attitudes that lead to mastery of a competency.  Learning objectives serve as benchmarks.  They represent the content in terms of performance and provide cues for the development of learning activities.

Sample competency: Interview for a job

Samples learning objectives:

  • Explain the purpose of an interview
  • List the documents required for an interview 

What are Learning Objectives for?

While competencies set the target outcomes for the course, learning objectives form the basis for what is to be learned. Learning objectives are important for both the learner and the instructor.

For the learner they:

  • Break the major skills into smaller pieces and give students smaller goals that are less overwhelming.
  • Provide a roadmap for achieving mastery of the competency.
  • Provide benchmarks for learners to measure their progress towards achieving the competency.

For the instructor they:

  • Detail the content that is embedded in the competency.
  • Guide the selection of learning activities (assignments).

Learning objectives are linked directly to a competency. There are usually 2–10 learning objectives per competency. Most often they are written at or below the level of the competency. If you cannot write at least two learning objectives for the competency, the competency may be too small.

Guidelines for Writing Learning Objectives

To write learning objectives:

  1. Ask, “What do learners need to know in order to perform this competency?”
  2. List any facts, concepts, procedures, processes, and/or principles that support the competency.
  3. Cross out any prerequisite skills or content.
  4. If your list has many detailed items in it, consider combining some of them.
  5. Write a performance statement for each item still on your list. You should have 2–10 learning objectives per competency.

Learning Objectives Checklist

  • Learning objectives include supporting skills, concepts, procedures, processes, and/or principles a learner needs to perform the competency.
  • Learning objectives begin with action verbs.
  • Learning objectives are measurable and observable.
  • Learning objectives are clear, concise, and precise description of skills, knowledge, and attitudes.
  • Learning objectives specify a single performance (one verb).
  • Learning objectives number 2–10 per competency.

Resources that can support you.

The following materials were produced by Michener and adapted with the permission of

Lesson Plans (a.k.a. Learning Plans)


A written learning guide that describes the intended performance outcomes (what), suggests learning activities or strategies (how), and designates assessment requirements (when). A learning plan addresses one or more competencies and the related outcomes; it is written to the learners. There may be multiple learning plans within a given course, project, or learning experience.

Learning Plans help students.

Learning plans help your learners navigate through the learning process. A learning plan links what learners will learn with how they will learn and when they will know they have achieved competence. When you develop learning plans, you provide your learners with a handbook for learning.

A single learning plan addresses one or more competencies and/or outcomes. There may be multiple learning plans within a given course or learning experience.

Learning plans are handy tools to be used in several ways.

  • You might incorporate learning plans into a study guide for learners to purchase or receive at the beginning of a course.
  • Learning plans are also useful if a learner misses a class meeting, falls behind, or wants to work ahead
  • You can post your learning plan online either in an online course or as a companion to a face-to-face course.

Engage students through learning activities

At Michener, we represent the learning process as a cycle. There are four major stages: motivation, comprehension, practice, and application. Each stage supports one or more of the five thinking processes: attention, encoding, rehearsal, retrieval, and metacognition. When you select the learning activities for a learning plan, choose activities that provide a framework for guiding learners all the way through the cycle.


At the motivation stage you facilitate the attention process by inspiring learners to learn and answering the question, “Why do I want to learn this information or skill?”


During the comprehension stage you facilitate encoding and processing in the working memory by clarifying performance expectations and helping learners access the information they need to perform the target competency.


In the practice stage you need to provide guided practice—elaborative rehearsal, giving feedback to facilitate encoding to long-term memory.


Finally, at the application stage, foster retrieval from the long-term memory to enable working memory processing on demand. During the application stage learners need to show that they can apply what they have learned to real world problems and decision-making. It is during the application stage that you build in assessment.

When you design learning plans, try to move learners through the complete learning cycle: motivation, comprehension, practice, and application. However, learners need to swing back and forth between the comprehension and practice stages before moving on to application. By doing this you help them avoid cognitive overload by chunking the learning into manageable pieces and punctuating it with frequent practice.

Learning Plan Checklist

  • Learning plan addresses 1–3 related competencies
  • Learning plan includes a title and overview or introduction
  • Learning plan includes a series of learning activities that help learners master the competency or group of related competencies
  • Learning activities begin with an action verb
  • Learning activities support the learning cycle (motivate, comprehend, practice, apply)
  • Learning activities are varied and require active learner involvement
  • Learning activities address all of the learning objectives
  • Learning plan includes assessment activities

Resources that can support you

The following is adapted from Angelo and Cross (1993), British Columbia Institute of Technology (2010), Carnegie Mellon University (2015), and Vanderbilt University (2017).

Classroom Assessment Techniques


Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) are methods used to evaluate student learning and student reactions to your teaching methods.  CATs are generally simple, non-graded, anonymous, in-class activities that give you and your students useful feedback on the teaching-learning process as it is happening.  For the best results, it is important that any CAT you use is non-threatening, student-centred and active.

Why Use CATs

  • To improve the teaching and learning in your course (e.g., speeding up or slowing the pace of your instruction or explicitly addressing areas of confusion)
  • Provide just-in-time feedback about the teaching and learning process
  • Provide information about student comprehension without the rigor and work required for traditional assignments (essays, tests, other PATs)
  • Help students become better monitors of their own learning
  • Help students feel seen and heard, even with course with large class sizes

How to Use CATs

Results from the CAT you use can help guide you in fine-tuning your teaching strategies to better meet student needs.  Knowing what you are looking for will help you determine which technique to choose and how to interpret the results.  Think about:

  • What do I want to know? Identify a specific “assessable” question where student responses will influence your teaching and provide feedback to aid their learning.
  • Which technique will I use to get this information? Why? Choose a CAT that provides you with the feedback you need, is consistent with your teaching style and can be implemented easily in your course
  • How will I introduce this technique to my students? Explain the purpose of the activity to students before you conduct the CAT
  • How much class time will it take? Make sure you build this time into your Lesson Plan for the day. You can complete the CAT yourself or have a colleague do it, to ensure your estimate is accurate.
  • What instructional changes will I make as a result of the information I receive? Review the results to determine what they tell you about your students’ learning and decide what change to make, if any
  • Let your students know what you learned from the CAT and how you will use this information – Tip: This shows students that you have learned from the assessment and helps them identify specific areas of difficulty for themselves.

Examples of CATs

Muddiest Point

Useful for: Determining key points that were missed by students

What it looks like: Ask students to jot down a response to the question “In today’s session, what was least clear to you?”

How to apply it:

  • Use at the end of your class
  • Hand out cards/post-it notes to students and give them about three (3) minutes to respond anonymously
Minute Paper

Useful for: Assessing how students are gaining knowledge (or not).  This also helps encourage quiet students to ask questions.

What it looks like: Ask students to write a brief response to the questions (1) “What was the important thing you learned during this class?” and (2) “What important questions remain unanswered?”

How to apply it:

  • Use after a class or at the beginning of a class to review the previous session
  • Answers to question 1 indicate whether you met your goal for the session
  • Answers to question 2 indicate which parts of the lesson you may need to review
Defining Features Matrix

Useful for: Assessing students’ recall of information and their ability to categorize it.

What it looks like: A matrix with several columns and rows.  The specific number of columns and rows are based upon the concepts you want students to differentiate between.  In the first column, list your distinct concepts that are potentially confusing (e.g., the indications and contraindications of specific pharmaceutical agents).  At the top of the remaining column(s), list the important characteristics of concepts in no particular order (see example).

Medication Indications Contraindications
Acetaminophen (fill in) (fill in)
Ibuprofen (fill in) (fill in)
Naproxen sodium (fill in) (fill in)

How to apply it:

  • Use after a lesson, as a review or as a pre-assessment tool
  • Write down the appropriate row and column headings and leave the cells blank
  • Set a time limit of about 10 minutes and instruct students to fill in the blank cells with as many correct answers as they can think of
  • When reviewing the matrices, look for patterns. Where did the students do well? Where did they seem to have the most trouble?
Application Cards

Useful for: Determining if students really “understand” the material you have taught.

What it looks like: A two column chart with several rows.  Ask students to list the knowledge or skills they have learned during the session in the left column and possible clinical / practice applications in the right column (see example).

Knowledge or Skill Possible Application(s)
 (fill in)  (fill in)
 (fill in)  (fill in)
 (fill in)  (fill in)

How to apply it:

  • Use at the end of your class or unit of instruction
  • Hand out the chart to students (you can identify the knowledge/skill in advance) and ask students to come up with one to three applications for each knowledge/skill
  • Set a time limit of about 10 minutes to allow students to respond anonymously
  • The information will show you whether students have just memorized the material or if they know how they could use it
  • Discuss any problems or trends with the class during your next session

Using CATs in an online environment

You can transfer most CATs from a traditional classroom environment to the online environment using tools built in to the Learning Management System (LMS), such as Discussion Boards, Survey or email.  Your choice of tool depends on how public or private you want your students’ responses to be.  Keep in mind that many students will be reluctant to voice their opinions in an open forum (i.e., Discussion Boards), but will likely be more forthcoming responding anonymously (i.e., Survey) or in a direct message to you (i.e., email).

It is very important in the online space, that you provide students with clear instructions as to the purpose of the activity and how they are to complete it.  Make sure you CATs are labelled appropriately with parameters that define the start and end of the activity.


Whether you use PowerPoint presentations as a preparatory element in your weekly learning plans, or you are delivering material for your online course asynchronously, adding voiceover audio can enhance the student student experience.  In Michener’s Sound Studio, located in the Learning Resource Centre (LRC), you can create voiceovers for your presentation that are free of loud, annoying or distracting background noise.

Benefits of using audio in PowerPoints

  • Many learners now prefer multimedia to stay engaged in a learning environment
  • Appeal to auditory learners
  • Audio may help reinforce certain points in your material and make them more memorable (“sticky”) for learners
  • Audio can add personality and a personal touch to your course, especially online where students may not always get to see or hear you
  • Reduces reading load and allows for more narrative instruction
  • Easy and cost-effective tool for creating flipped, blended or fully online content

Challenges of using audio in PowerPoints

  • Bad quality audio can be more distracting and detrimental than useful
  • Writing and practicing scripts for recording can be time intensive tasks
  • If your course requires frequent updates then it can be difficult and time consuming to edit your audio
  • Matching audio and on-screen text can be redundant and boring
  • Audio can sometimes force students to go at the same pace through your material. They may prefer to skim material they are familiar with and slow down and concentrate on more challenging parts

The best time to use audio in PowerPoints

  • To explain complex graphics or images that students may need to interpret
  • To inspire learners or appeal to their emotions (human voice can make a huge difference)
  • To facilitate learning for students who have different accessibility needs
  • To facilitate lectures electronically, particularly in online courses

Best practices for voiceover PowerPoints

  • Consider writing a script to avoid pauses or saying “um”. This will help save you time by preventing the need for re-recording.
  • Use conversational language and tone.
  • Avoid reading your slides! If your slides contain a lot of text, speak around the material rather than reading it directly. Bullet points are generally recommended.
  • Use the LRC Sound Studio for clear and crisp audio free from distracting background noise.
  • Use graphics and images to illustrate and enhance the message – they should support your content.