The University of Waterloo’s Student Course Perceptions (SCP) survey includes ten core questions (individual faculties may seek to add additional questions). The core questions ask for students’ perspectives on their learning experiences, with a focus on key elements of effective teaching. This tip sheet provides guidance on teaching practices and strategies relevant to the SCP survey that you may find helpful as you develop or enhance your courses.
Elements of Course Design
The first three questions on the Student Course Perceptions survey ask about course design elements:
- SCP Q: The instructor identified the intended learning outcomes for this course
- SCP Q: The intended learning outcomes were assessed through my graded work
- SCP Q: The course activities prepared me for the graded work
These three questions all relate to the principle of alignment. Alignment in course design means that intended learning outcomes (ILOs), assessments of learning, and course activities are thoughtfully interconnected and work in concert with one another to support student learning.
When a course has alignment, it’s been designed around a limited number of high-level ILOs that identify what you want students to know or be able to do by the end of the course. The course assessments — both formative and summative — enable students to demonstrate how well they are meeting the ILOs, while the course activities help to prepare students for those assessments. Making your course design plans transparent to the students assists them with their learning.
What are some ways to achieve this transparency? First, consider when and where to share the ILOs:
- During the first class when you are providing a verbal overview of the course. Afterward, you might even gamify the ILOs by giving your students a quiz to see who can recall them best or remember their purpose.
- In the course outline. Since your ILOs are at the heart of your course, you should include them in your course outline.
- In LEARN. On the home page of your course in LEARN, you might link to another page that lists the ILOs for the course.
- At the beginning of class. If you use a tool like PowerPoint during class time, you likely open your slide deck as your students begin to arrive. The opening slide of your presentations — the slide that students see as they settle into class — could list the ILOs of the course.
Students also benefit from knowing how the assessments of their work and their course activities connect to the ILOs and to each other. Here are some ways to help them understand these connections:
- Clearly show the interconnections among these course elements. One effective strategy is to create an alignment chart listing the ILOs in one column, the assessments in another, and the general course activities in yet another. Then visually show how they connect to one another (for example, which ILOs are evaluated by which assessments, which activities link to which assessments, and so on). The resulting visual might be complex because a given ILO can be linked to more than one assessment, and a given course activity can help students prepare for more than one assessment.
- Share your alignment chart in your course outline. Or you might simply create a link to that chart in LEARN on the home page for the course. Making the chart easily accessible to students provides them with an ongoing “big picture” of the course.
- Identify relevant ILOs on assignments, tests, and other assessments. Including the relevant ILOs on assessments helps students understand what they need to be able to do with that content to demonstrate their learning. It also helps reinforce the connection between these two elements of course design.
- Explain how course activities help students prepare for assessments. Whether students are working on problems in class, discussing an analytical framework, or providing a progress update on a project, make it clear to them how such activities prepare them to be able to demonstrate the ILOs.
Effective course design provides transparency for students by revealing the rationales behind your design choices to support their learning. For additional guidance, refer to these CTE Tip Sheets:
- Writing Intended Learning Outcomes
- Aligning Outcomes, Assessments, and Instruction
- Course Design: Questions to Consider
- Course Design: Planning a Class
- Learner-Centred Assessment
- Bloom's Taxonomy Learning Activities and Assessments
The SCP survey also includes a core question about workload, which also relates to course design.
- SCP Q: The course workload demands were [scale range is from very low to very high]:
In general, it’s advisable to keep student workload to 8-10 hours per course per week, which includes your contact hours with them (face-to-face or via platforms such as MS Teams) as well as the time they spend studying, engaging in online activities, completing assessments, doing group work, and so on. Some faculties encourage more hours, so check with your department, but strive to enable students to achieve a reasonable work-life balance (5 courses x 10 hours = a 50-hour work week). To help you determine actual workload, try these strategies:
- Use a workload estimation calculator (see links below) and then revisit those estimates partway through the term (e.g., note any activities you ran out of time to do in class, or test questions most students didn’t complete due to lack of time).
- Ask your TA to record how long it takes them to do an assessment then multiply by 2, or do it yourself and multiply by 3, to adjust for the students’ lower level of expertise.
- Ask your students or a sampling of them how long it took them to do assigned work outside of class.
With feedback on your workload estimates, you can make adjustments for future course designs. You can find workload estimation calculators here:
Course Implementation and Learning Environment
Other aspects of effective teaching focus on how the course design is implemented, including the learning environment that you foster with your students within the classroom or online. Below we provide general guidance and links to relevant tip sheets.
- SCP Q: The instructor helped me to understand the course concepts.
The teaching strategies and learning activities that will help students understand the key concepts of a course depend to a great extent on factors unique to that course, such as the class size, year-level of the students, and your own comfort with different instructional methods. Some general strategies to aid with assisting student comprehension include:
- Being clear. Various strategies can assist with clarity, including writing out key terms as you explain them, providing examples to flesh out definitions, and explaining concepts in different but complementary ways to the textbook or readings. Subdividing concepts into logical chunks can also make them easier for students to process and retain.
- Helping students develop strategies for organizing their knowledge. Students need to learn not only what individual course concepts are but also how they cohere with other concepts. Tools such as matrices and concept maps can help students do this processing and help them assess their comprehension.
- Providing students with ample opportunities to ask questions. Pausing during class time to invite questions gives students an opportunity to reflect on or assess their immediate learning. Likewise, responding to questions during office hours, by email, or in LEARN deepens their connection with you and assures them you are invested in their learning.
- Giving students multiple opportunities to practice with feedback. Learning activities that provide students with opportunities to give and receive formative feedback include having them explain their thinking to peers in two-stage tests, running problem-solving tutorials, or doing writing assignments where they have to explain course concepts to peers or other audiences. Make it explicit to students that these activities will aid their comprehension.
- Using active learning strategies. Strategies such as interactive lecturing, discussions, experiential learning, peer learning, and critical reflection engage students in the work of learning. Again, be explicit about why you have designed activities that use such strategies: to support them in developing their own understanding of the course concepts.
CTE Tip Sheets relevant to supporting student comprehension include:
- Universal Design: Course Design
- Active Learning Activities
- Learning Activities and Assignments: How to Maximize Their Effectiveness
- In-Class Activities and Assessment for the Flipped Classroom
- Online Activities and Assessment for the Flipped classroom
- Peer Instruction and Concept Tests
- Activities for Large Classes
- Teaching Metacognitive Skills
A supportive learning environment is another component of effective course implementation, as is reflected in this question from the Student Course Perceptions survey:
- SCP Q: The instructor created a supportive environment that helped me learn.
Students perform best in learning environments where they feel supported, included, and valued. Helping them to experience this begins long before the first day of class, when you develop the course with the principles of Universal Design and inclusion in mind. During the course, various strategies can help foster a positive learning environment:
- Set the tone in the first class. Explicitly tell students from day one that you intend to create an inclusive, accepting, and welcoming learning environment for everyone.
- Humanize yourself. Introduce yourself by telling students the pronouns you use, your background, what interests you have outside of academia, your favorite food/book/sport, and so on. Let them see you as a person.
- Help students connect to one another. Invite them to introduce themselves to the whole class or to a small group. They might merely exchange names, or you can have them engage in an icebreaker to feel more at ease with their peers.
- Address students respectfully. For example, aim to learn and use your students’ names. In a big course, you might ask them to wear nametags or to display their names on a folded card on their desk. Also, be sure to use the pronouns indicated by individual students.
- Show support for student needs and wellbeing. Accommodate the accessibility requirements of your students. In addition, strive to be flexible with students who are encountering unanticipated challenges in their lives and direct them to university supports as needed.
- Be inclusive. Numerous actions foster inclusivity, such as using gender-neutral language in your classes and course materials, and following accessibility guidelines. If you witness microaggressions, address them.
- Be available. Within reasonable boundaries, make yourself regularly available to students outside of class via office hours (in-person or online), email, or LEARN.
CTE Tip Sheets relevant to inclusive teaching include:
- Universal Design: Course Design
- Universal Design: Instructional Strategies
- Early Engagement Quick Tips
- Why is Inclusive Instruction Important?
- Gender Pronouns and Teaching
- Fostering Student Morale and Confidence
- Supporting Students’ Mental Wellbeing: Course Design
- Supporting Students’ Mental Wellbeing: Instructional Strategies
- Understanding Essential Requirements
Effective course implementation also includes fostering student interest:
- SCP Q: The instructor stimulated my interest in this course.
- Share your enthusiasm for the subject matter. If you aren’t interested in the course, why should the students be? Look and sound interested as you work with your students during the term.
- Show your students you’re interested in their perspectives and experiences. Ask them to share their existing knowledge about a topic, have them make predictions prior to sharing data with them, encourage them to provide relevant examples from their own experiences, and so on.
- Use real-life examples and authentic assessments. The more that students can relate to the content and learning activities and see their broader applicability, the more your course will capture their interest.
- Give students some choice. When students get to pick topics for assessments, they’re more motivated to engage with the work. Similarly, when they can choose the medium for conveying an assignment (e.g., paper, presentation, video, artwork), they are likely to become more invested.
Related CTE Tip Sheets in this area include:
- Motivating Our Students
- Incorporating Service-Learning in University Courses
- Community-Based Learning
- Gamification and Game-Based Learning
Finally, the SCP survey includes three open-ended questions that can relate to the design or implementation of the course:
- SCP Q: The most important thing I learned in this course was:
- SCP Q: What helped me to learn in this course was:
- SCP Q: What changes, if any, would I suggest for this course?
One way of starting a dialogue with your students before a course ends is to solicit midterm feedback. Shortly after collecting the feedback, give students a summary of it and indicate what you can and cannot change about the course based on their ideas. If you can act on even one piece of their feedback while they are still taking the course, it will assure your students that their learning experience is important to you. You might also tell them how you have acted on feedback that the course has received in previous iterations to show your openness and responsiveness to student feedback.
Learn more about midterm feedback from this CTE Tip Sheet:
This Creative Commons license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon our work non-commercially, as long as they credit us and indicate if changes were made. Use this citation format: Teaching Effectiveness and the Student Course Perceptions Survey. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.