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Getting Organized: Topical Course Outline for Nursing Education and Development

Updated: May 25, 2021

When approaching course design the faculty member should be self-aware of their level of comfort, experience, and ability to successfully construct a coherent and unambiguous course outline. It should be noted that often faculty use familiar approaches to teaching and learning, perhaps at times unknowingly overlooking or failing to consider what is current and consistent with the program's foundations and philosophy, therefore, careful attention to development must continuously be intrinsically and extrinsically encouraged. To best create a course and course outline, faculty members should consider the philosophical and educational underpinnings that align with the program and the school’s mission. The course designer/coordinator should collaborate with fellow faculty members to ensure that the course outline is acceptable and meets foundational criteria.

Course design is a fluid and ever changing process that is rooted in an initial configuration of the course. Design stems from faculty discussion and decisions regarding the level of the course, availability (within what semester), length of course, assigned credit hours, and method of delivery. The design of a course and the course layout require the creation of a title, stated purpose, and description of the course content and material. Objective statements and competencies describe the expectations for development. These statements should be delivered to the student along with the course outline, so that the student learner is aware of the correlations between course readings, assignments, and outcomes. In addition to course outcomes, module outcomes should also be included, and should align with the expected course outcomes and program objectives. This is one area that we feel demands particular focus and effort to ensure consistency throughout the course. The learning experiences and resources should be selected to support the teaching-learning process within each unique module.

We developed an example of a course outline for the first week of a Community Health Nursing course.

The dates of the weekly modules should be listed with both start and end dates available for review within the course outline. The student learner is able to view the weekly module content and topics, the assigned readings, and the coinciding competencies and learner outcomes. Additional writing assignments or projects should also be listed along with their due dates.

The outline should be written in such a way that is clear, intentional, and lacking in redundancy, so that the student learner is able to follow course instruction and remain aware of their assignments with the supported ability to proactively plan. Course outlines reinforce the relevance and importance of material in relation to practice through weekly snapshots. Through our experience with many different course outlines in the past, we have found that the outlines that were simplistically designed, though thoroughly developed, were the most effective. A well-designed course outline blends course expectation, competencies and outcomes, and the means to ignite learning. An outline, if well planned for, will be meaningful and inspire the student learner to invest their time and efforts towards success, as the coursework appears manageable and thoughtfully constructed.

Pause, Reflect, and Plan:

How clear are my course outlines? How thorough? Where could I improve? What are the learners asking for, directly or indirectly, which could be included?

Note: There are many approaches to navigating topical course outline development. Those shared here are aimed at providing a beginning foundation in which to work off of as your practice is refined and you tune into the unique needs of the communities of learners you are working with.

This post is part of the "Getting Organized" series, which centers on establishing groundwork. Check out more posts from this series here:


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