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Analyzing Learning Context

The course context has a significant impact upon student learning and your ability to teach in the ways you want to teach. You can work with this context by assessing components and determining needed adaptations or changes.
Components of this context include the departmental curriculum and mandates that affect the course, your potential students, course enrollment, your teaching style, the setting, the tools which can enhance the course, and support structures available to you.

Departmental Curriculum and Mandates

Departments have a curriculum plan for their majors which includes core knowledge of the discipline. They also state pre-requisites for courses. If your course is designed for majors, then goals and content should fit within this larger department plan and be designed at a level appropriate for students who have completed pre-requisite courses. If your course is designed for non-majors or as a general education approved course, you may have different guidelines, such as guidelines for electives or for general education (GEP) approval. Professional departments also may have further guidelines needed to meet accreditation standards.

Guiding Questions

“Are there prerequisites to my course? What are they? What is taught in those courses? What are the goals and outcomes my students may have achieved by participating in those courses?”
“Is this course a required course or elective? Is it part of the “plan of work” for majors in my department?”
“Is this course required to meet mandates or standards from accreditation or licensing bodies? If so, what are these requirements?”
“Is this course a preparatory course for a standardized exam?”
“How can the class be structured to serve the needs of all types of students equally? What strategies can be provided to help students be successful?”

Your Potential Students

Your learners provide an important element of your course context. Gathering information about students who may enroll in this course will be helpful as you plan your course.

Guiding Questions

“What are typical characteristics of my students in this course? What types of learning experiences have they had previously? What was effective for them? Are there students with special needs? Are many of the students non-traditional in age and lifestyle?”
“What topics or types of assignments may pose challenges students? What strategies can I provide to help students be successful?”

Class Enrollment

Expected enrollment for your course can provide valuable information for your course design. If you are planning for a large course (over 75 students), for example, some of your strategies for teaching will likely change. If you have a course that more than usual number of students fail or withdraw, then assessing the potential reasons for this may further guide your planning.

Guiding Questions

“How many students are participating in my class? What are the attendance trends? How are students arranged (seated) in my classroom?
“What are the past withdrawal and failure rates in my class? Are these in line with similar classes in my department?”

Your Teaching Style

Teachers vary in their approach to teaching, philosophy, expertise, etc. Assessing your own styles and strengths and weaknesses can help you design your course to adapt to your own style.

Guiding Questions 

“What is my style as an instructor?” Do I prefer to deliver information through lecture? Or, do I like to break up the class to allow students to answer questions in small groups?”
“What has been my experience with different styles of teaching? Which styles seem to work best for me? What new teaching styles would I like to incorporate?”
“Are there others who have previously taught this course who can provide background information on the teaching methods or strategies that seemed to be effective for them?”

Course Settings

Classes are held in rooms ranging from large stadium seating theaters to small one table seminar rooms. Faculty extend their classrooms to community sites, labs, and virtual settings.

Guiding Questions

“Are chairs and equipment movable in my assigned classroom? What is the optimal setup for the type of class I’m planning to teach?”
“What could I adapt within this assigned classroom?”

Example of a course context

This hypothetical context will form the basis for the examples provided throughout this course design module which add goals, assessment, content and strategies.
Course context: You have 20 students in a 200 level general education course. Your assigned classroom seats 25 students with movable desks. Field trips to community gardens are pre-arranged. Classroom has white boards, and computer and projector.

Further Resources

Learning Management Systems (LMS): Link to DELTA that provides information about the LMS available on campus
NCSU Libraries Faculty/Instructor Support
MyPack Portal for online access to class rolls and submit and post grades through the Department of Registration and Records.
Ordering textbooks from NC State bookstore.
University Planning and Analysis for viewing online evaluation of every course each semester. See the ClassEval website for policies and procedures.
Student conduct policies and procedures, student rights and responsibilities, academic integrity and much more from the Office of Student Conduct.
ClassTech: Classroom Technology for using classroom technologies, requesting technology-equipped rooms, and obtaining electronic and on-site training
OIT for NC State-licensed software to take advantage of the many licensing agreements and receive up-to-date information about NC State software licensing and acquisition.