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Instructional Support

Design Your Online Course

Good online pedagogy starts with good pedagogy. When designing an online course, it’s easy to get fascinated (and distracted) by the technological teaching and learning tools. As you lay out your course, aligning selected instructional strategies and assessments with the student learning objectives will help you stay on track.

Create a Course Plan

Use Your Existing Syllabus as a Reference

If you have already been teaching a course in a traditional classroom, you probably already have a course syllabus. The existing syllabus can become a good starting point for transforming your course because it provides answers to questions about course goals, student assignments, grading, readings, and course topics.

If you are developing an online course from scratch and would like to draft a syllabus, Teaching and Learning Innovation (TLI) provides the UT Syllabus Template and the Syllabus Checklist at The Syllabus page.

Backward Course Design

Build your course around student learning rather than around topics. Don’t let the book chapters guide your course design. In other words, instead of “What topics do I need to cover?” the leading question should be, “What knowledge, skills, and attitudes do my students need to develop?”

Consider the backward design approach to design a course with the end results in mind – skills, knowledge, and attitudes that the students will have upon course completion.

  • Identify desired student learning outcomes for the course.
  • Determine acceptable evidence that students achieved learning outcomes.
  • Plan learning experiences and instruction that will lead students to the desired learning outcomes.

Time for Action

Create a Draft of Your Course Plan

Build a plan for your entire online course using the 3-Column Document that incorporates the three backward design principles.

Objectives for Student Learning Pedagogy / Method of Learning Assessment of Learning
“Students will…”
Objectives need to be assessable student learning outcomes.
What you do / What students do Assessment includes summative (graded) and formative (which is informal–not graded)

How to use this table

Envision your course in its progression, where your students conquer one learning goal and move to another. This table will help you create a chronological sequence of course units. By the end of each unit, students should be able to achieve the learning objectives set for that unit. It’s up to you how you define an instructional unit. It may be a weeklong learning module, a two-week segment of the course, a three-hour live online session, or a month-long project. Most importantly, each unit of instruction should have a finite student learning objective or a set of objectives.

Your goal is to align the Learning Objectives, Instructional and Learning Activities, and Assessments in this table.

  • First column: List your learning objectives. You may decide to list course-level student objectives or learning objectives for each instructional unit.
  • Second column: List the instructional and learning activities that would lead students to achieving the stated objectives. Learning activities can include reviewing and making notes of lectures, class discussions, case studies, simulation exercises, practice quizzes, and much more. Review resources for more ideas.
  • Third column: List assignments and assessments through which students will demonstrate whether they reached desired learning outcomes. More about aligning your student learning objectives and assessments.


Select Technology Tools

How does technology fit into the course design? Technology tools are just that — tools — that will help you achieve the desired student objectives of the course.

Explore Teaching Tools

In the Teaching Tools section of the Toolkit, explore:

  • Course Content: tools that are used in creating and distributing online course materials.
  • Learner Engagement: tools that encourage active student learning through online communication, collaboration, and social networking.
  • Assessment: tools that provide a means of determining the success of student learning and effectiveness of the instruction.

Tips for Selecting Tools:

  • Choose tools that facilitate specific learning goals of the course.
  • Look for additional benefits that a tool would bring to class as compared to a traditional classroom. Will this tool lead to better learning or more convenience for students?
  • Minimize the number of technology tools in your course. The fewer tools, the better for you and your students: less confusion, less time to learn new technology, and less maintenance.
  • Use technology tools that are familiar or easy to learn and use — for you and your students.
  • Look for tools that you can use in multiple activities and assessments.

Ask questions such as:

  • What support and training does OIT provide for the tool?
  • Is it easy to maintain instructional materials created with this tool?
  • Can the instructional materials be accessed on various computer operating systems and through various mobile devices?
  • If it’s multimedia, does it require high-speed Internet connection?
  • Is the tool or instructional materials created with the tool going to be accessible for people with disabilities?
  • How am I going to assess the activity or assignment created with this tool?
  • Is the technology secure? Is student information protected? Is the data backed up in case of an emergency?

Read Faculty Focus’ Determining the Best Technology for Your Students, Your Course, and You that summarizes Tony Bates’ decision-making framework for selecting educational technology.

Time for Action

  • Select the Technology Tools to be used in your online course. Revisit your course plan and indicate technologies that you will be using for the activities and assessment. If all of your objectives cannot be met in an online environment, then you would explore the possibility of a blended learning environment in which you develop activities that capitalize on the strength of face-to-face and online learning.
  • Finalize your course plan by specifying the online activities in your 3-Column Document.


Set Up Your Course Site

Access Your Course Site

In order for your course sites to appear in Canvas, your department MUST have you listed as the primary instructor of record in Banner. If you do not see a course that you are teaching within Canvas, contact your departmental Banner representative. You can also contact the OIT HelpDesk with the request to investigate the issue.


  • Multiple sections of a single course or cross-listed courses may be combined or merged into a single course section. If you would like to merge/combine course sites, you can either:
    • Contact the OIT HelpDesk with the following information: 5-digit Course Reference Number (CRN) of all course sites to be merged and the preferred name of the new merged site, or
    • Merge/combine course sites on your own by visiting this Knowledge Base article.
  • As listed in Banner, primary and secondary instructors of record will be automatically populated into the Canvas course site. Any additional instructors or teaching assistants must be added manually by the Primary Instructor of Record.

Canvas Course Site Template

Your Canvas course site should be organized in a consistent, clear and logical manner for your students. It is important to create an organizational structure for the course, so that both you and your students can easily navigate the site without getting confused. OIT provides a template model that contains common elements and tools to get you started. Contact the OIT HelpDesk to request the course template be copied into your course site.

Time for Action

Finalize Your Course Syllabus

Course Syllabus

Once you have a clear idea of your course design and organization, it’s time to finalize the course syllabus. Teaching and Learning Innovation offers you information and resources for preparing a course syllabus on The Campus Syllabus resource page.

In the syllabus, inform your prospective students of: (a) the type of technology that the online course will use, (b) class learning environment and instructional methods, (c) class communication and participation guidelines, (d) prerequisite skills and technology requirements, and (e) student support resources for online learning.

Consider including OIT’s Getting Ready for Online Learning, a self-assessment resource for students who plan to take an online course.

We highly recommend posting the syllabus of the online courses on the department’s or the instructor’s website. The information provided in the syllabus will enable students to make informed decisions about enrolling in an online course.

Time for Action

Finalize your online course syllabus. Make sure you keep the syllabus information in only one place. As you work further on your course, you may still need to tweak the syllabus. It will be easier to make changes once, in one location.