Revising a course as a process, not a product

“There are no rules, no absolutes, just alternatives. What works one time may not another.”

-Donald Murray
Letter blocks that simultaneously spell process and success

No matter how much careful attention was put into an initial course design, course creation is never complete; courses evolve as you gain experience, your field shifts, and the world around us changes. While it can be difficult to spare the time to revise a course, shaking it up can pay off exponentially in the impact of your course for students, as well as your enjoyment of the semester. McGahan (2018) suggests structuring course revision as a process can mitigate overwhelm and “help to find areas for improvement and will ultimately create a better learning environment for students and a better instructional environment from which to teach and facilitate” (Conclusion section, para. 3).  Viewing course revision as a process, rather than a finished product, can alleviate the pressure of having a perfect course by the first day of the semester, which in turn can promote a more positive experience that you actually look forward to. Here are few ideas to begin cultivating your course revision process: 

Make a written plan 

Get your revision to-do list out of your head and onto paper. A good brainstorming session can be generative and can help quell the overwhelm of taking on a big task like a course revision. From there, you can begin to prioritize the tasks. Which changes are urgent, and which are nice, but not essential? The great thing about creating a written record of your revision ideas is that you will have it as a reference for future iterations. McGahan (2018) notes, “Humans tend toward habitual behaviors and course design is no different. Use the notes as a lens to examine other courses in need of revision” (​​Step 4: Record Reflections, Findings, and Observations section para. 7). With a documented plan, you’ll be set to tackle those “nice-to-haves” next semester

Reflect on previous semesters 

A great way to gather ideas for your course revision is to do some intentional reflection. There are many resources available to guide your process, from reflection questions to self-assessment rubrics. One good place to start is considering areas of student achievement— what were the assignments where students really shined? What about assignments where students struggle more? Student evaluations also contain a wealth of information. If reading evaluations stresses you out, consider asking a trusted colleague or friend to read through your evals and help you synthesize the useful ideas and feedback. 

Break it down 

Even if you have made a plan, and prioritized tasks, a course revision to do list can still look pretty daunting, especially if you are making a big change like switching over to Canvas or changing textbooks. If a task looks overwhelming, try setting a timer for ten minutes and write out every task involved in making that change. For example, for a switch to Canvas, you could break down the move into steps like: log-in to Canvas; request a development shell; attend a Canvas workshop; reorganize course components; edit assignments; and create a homepage. Creating these small, achievable tasks will help propel you forward, and help reduce the stress involved in making a big change. 

Work in community 

Peer review and collaboration is just as useful in teaching as it is in research and learning. Find a friend and commit to a one-hour coffee date to work on making your changes. Or join forces with a colleague that teaches the same course and divide the revision labor. Collaboration can be low stakes as well; for example, scan through Twitter profiles of scholars in your field to find recent news and research articles to add to your course. UAF CTL regularly facilitates programs where you can tackle a course revision during a focused workshop. Reaching out to others can help create a support system that will inspire and encourage a continuous course revision process. 


McGahan, S. (2018). Reflective Course Review and Revision: An Overview of a Process to Improve Course Pedagogy and Structure. Journal of Educators Online, 15(3).
Murray, D. (2003). Teaching Writing as Process, Not Product. In V. Villanueva (Ed.), Cross-talk in comp theory: A reader (2nd ed, pp. 3–6). National Council of Teachers of English.

Elle Fournier

Elle Fournier

Instructional Designer

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