Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Design & Teach a Course

Identify the Situational Constraints

Below is a list of questions you should ask yourself when planning a course. Your answers to these questions will have implications for the decisions you make about learning objectives, instructional activities and assessments, as well as the material you can reasonably cover.

The Course

  • How big is your class?
  • How many units are attached? At Carnegie Mellon, one unit equals one hour, so a nine-unit course means that students will spend an average of nine hours per week on the course, including both in and out of class time
  • What time of day is the class scheduled for?
  • How long and frequent are the class meetings?
  • Is the course lower division, upper division, or graduate level?
  • Is this course required or an elective?
  • How many class meetings do you have over the course of a semester?
  • Do you have TAs? How many? What functions can they serve?
  • Can you choose the textbook(s) or are they pre-selected?
  • To what extent are you in control of the course and syllabus design process?
  • Is there certain material you must cover for courses downstream?
  • What curricular goals does the institution or department have that affect this course or program?
  • What kind of room are you teaching in, e.g., one with flexible seating?
  • What technology is installed in the room (e.g., DVD players, document cameras, computers)?
  • What other technologies are available from Media Technology Services (e.g., VCR)
  • What software will you need?
  • Does CMU have a campus license for that software?

The Students

  • What can you assume about students’ prior knowledge?
  • If you are teaching in a professional program, do students have other commitments (e.g., full time jobs) that will constrain the way in which they can engage in the course?
  • How much time/flexibility do students have to fulfill the requirements of the course?
  • What are their reasons for enrolling (e.g., requirement for credentialing, interest in the subject)?
  • What experiences do students bring to the course (e.g., work experience, cultural background)?
  • Is it reasonable to assume that students can all meet outside of class to work on group projects (if applicable)?