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Articulating Course Aims and Objectives

Effective course design begins with the question, what do I want my students to be able to do or produce by the end of my course? In answering this question, you will articulate course aims and objectives that will guide your choice of topics and your sequence of assignments. You may find it helpful as you write to use verbs that describe qualitative and quantitative analytic work, such as define, interpret, evaluate, demonstrate, classify, solve, compute, derive, or synthesize.

In reflecting on your aims and objectives, keep in mind not only the disciplinary context for the course, but also the curricular and institutional setting. How does your course figure into your department’s curriculum? Given this, what intellectual skills and abilities do your students need to learn? Consider how Princeton understands its educational mission as well as defines its general education and distribution requirements. How does your course fulfill them? Taking into account the curricular and institutional context may allow you to conceptualize and express more fully your course aims and objectives.

The following suggestions and questions are intended to help you to identify and evaluate course aims and objectives.

  • Focus on student learning. What do you want your students to be able to do intellectually after taking your course? What abilities do you want them to acquire for the long term by taking your course?
  • Consider the different learning preferences your students may bring to the course. Students may prefer to learn by hearing (e.g. listening to lectures), by seeing (e.g. reading), or by doing (e.g. performing an experiment). Constructing course objectives based on different ways of learning will make for a richer educational experience for students.
  • Set intellectually ambitious aims and objectives, while making sure the workload of your course—for both you and your students—is reasonable.
  • Examine the relationship between your objectives and the topics you’ve chosen and the assignments you’ve designed for the course. Will the topics and assignments help your students meet, and even exceed, those objectives?
  • Include your aims and objectives on your syllabus and discuss them with your students. Identifying with your students what they will learn in the course may help deemphasize grades and decrease strategic learning practices, such as studying only for tests.
  • Ask students to set personal learning goals for the course, which may also increase their motivation in commitment to the course.

References and Resources:

Walvoord, Barbara E. and Virginia Johnson Anderson. Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment. San Francisco: Jossey Bass Publishers, 1998.

Woolcock, Michael J.V. “Constructing a Syllabus.” The Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning, Brown University. May 13, 2004.