Office of Educational Assessment

Course Goals

Planning courses by asking ourselves what we want students to know and know how to do by the end of our classes helps us create courses that include reading, assignments, and exams that help students meet those goals. However, even though we often begin course planning with learning goals in mind, we sometimes do not share those goals with our students. Research on learning suggests that students learn more if we let them know at the beginning where they will end up. Such knowledge allows them to create a kind of roadmap, drawing the connections between the major places in the course, and identifying purposes for what faculty ask them to do and think about.


Begin with content: What do I want students in this course to know when it’s over?

What is this course about?
What information do I want it to convey?
How does that information “naturally” divide into sections?
Where are the most difficult concepts in the course?

(For a complete process that begins with this question, see Pace, D. & Middendorf, J., eds. (2004). Decoding the disciplines: Helping students learn disciplinary ways of thinking. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.)

Think about the discipline in which the content is situated: What do I want students to know how to do when the course is over?

What are the key disciplinary concepts for this course and how are they connected?
How does the class convey the methodology of my discipline to students?
What skills matter in this field?
Where does this class fall in the curriculum? How does relate to courses that come before and after it?

Make your goals specific, conveying expectations for this particular class, rather than generic expectations that give students little information.

NOT: “Students will learn to write and speak effectively”
BUT: “Students will learn to write hypothesis-driven sociological arguments about deviance that make use of statistical evidence found in the sociological literature.”

Identify the teaching strategies that will help students meet goals and let you know if they have met them.

What teaching methods fit each goal best?
How can I use the skills I want to develop to help students learn content?
How can I increase student engagement?

Assessment methods

Assessing whether students have met the learning goals for the class should be built-into the course. A variety of approaches can provide information to faculty members about student learning, including written assignments, homework, class discussion, group projects, opportunities for student self-assessment, quizzes, exams, end-of-course portfolios, and other normal parts of most courses.

For more information about classroom-based assessment, see, Angelo, T. A. & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.