As you design your online course, you’ll have many important decisions to make. Below, you’ll find some basic guidelines to consider as you make those decisions.

You can reference our infographic if you’re looking for a high-level overview of this information.

For those who want more, you can review our Brightspace course set up resources page. It contains a variety of course design related materials, including course templates, learning outcomes and assessments, and online design guides.

If you’d like support with designing your course, please fill out our intake form and we’ll follow up with you as soon as possible.


  1. Prepare your syllabus.
    • Identify your course learning outcomes (LOs). You can use these LOs to inform your decisions about what to adjust in your course while ensuring that you keep the academic rigour of the course intact. These outcomes should be SMART= Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.
    • You will want to ensure there is alignment between your LOs, assessments and activities. Refer to the Course Design teaching tip for more information.
  2. Check if your department has a syllabus template. For some tips on syllabus set up, consult the Course Syllabus Checklist.
  3. Send your reading list to Ares or meet virtually with a librarian for assistance (to clear and check copyright/issues).

Course Format

  1. Decide if you will be teaching synchronously (online office hours, online group meetings, real-time online presentation, etc.), asynchronously (watching pre-recorded lecture, contributing to online discussions, doing quizzes) or both. If both, define which week will be delivered in what mode.
    • If you are considering live, online classes, read this blog post first.
    • Our Carleton Online (formerly CUOL) Technical Operators can help you record your lectures in one of our studio classrooms. If you’d like to record your course introduction, update a lecture or two, or even record entire lectures, fill out our request form.
  2. Review educational technology tools – familiarize yourself with Carleton’s suite of EdTech tools so you know what is possible when teaching online. Check out the list of online workshops that can help you get started with these tools.
    • TLS has sourced and acquired equipment to loan to instructors to help develop and teach online courses, including Microsoft Surface Pro Tablet computers with keyboard and stylus, iPads with Apple Pencils, document cameras, WiFi hotspots, web cameras and headset microphones. Find out more and submit your request for equipment here.

Materials, Activities and Assessments

  1. Review and update your teaching materials (readings, lecture recordings, external videos, etc.) and graded/ungraded activities (tests, forums, assignments, etc.). Our Assessments and Exams: Considerations for Change resource is a good place to start. As you review your materials and activities, consider the following questions:
    • What are my students going to read/watch this week?
    • How are they going to engage with me, with the material, and with their peers?
    • Do these materials and activities align with my course outcomes?
    • How am I going to communicate the expectations of the activities? Do my students have all of the information required to succeed?
      • Remember that you will have limited face-to-face discussion time to clarify your instructions – try to provide clear, simple and concise text-based instructions that will set up students for success.
    • How am I going to grade the assessment (peer review, pass/fail, for participation vs. performance, etc.)?
    • How will students submit assignments (Brightspace assignment, forum discussion, cuPortfolio, etc.)?
      • If you’re using Brightspace, consult the resource on creating assignments for some instructions and helpful FAQs.
    • Are all of my materials accessible and available to all my students? Consult Accessibility Resources for Instructors to learn more.
    • Can all my students participate/engage in this activity? Consult the UDL (Universal Design for Learning) Guidelines to learn more.
  2. If you normally have a final exam in your course, consider adapting this to another assessment method (take home, final paper, portfolio assignment, etc.). Online exams are not going to have the same kind of safeguards as in-person proctored exams so alternative assessments may be a better option. If testing is necessary in your course, read about improving online test security and reducing cheating here.


  1. Consider using our Brightspace course setup resources – they can help you get off to a running start when building your courses online and facilitating them in a way that will foster student learning and save you time.
  2. Prepare an overview of your course – this could be done in a three minute Kaltura recording or with some concise text at the top of your course page.
    • Instructor introduction and welcome
    • A list of your expectations of the course, the students, and yourself
    • Communication details: how they will receive information from you, how they should contact you, what your response time policy will be (e.g. wait 24hrs before contacting me about the same issue again)
  3. Set up your Brightspace gradebook – this is the best way to communicate grades to students so that they know how they are doing in your course.
  4. In advance of each week:
    • Prepare your content (PPT slides, lecture recording, activity and assessment descriptions).
    • Post content on Brightspace and set up activities and assessments in your course (forums, quizzes, assignments) with open and close dates for each.
    • For support, visit the Brightspace support site.
    • Prepare instructions for students of what is required of them each week (readings, lectures to watch, assessments, additional resources to review, etc.)
  5. Do a quality review of your course. Note: course design is an iterative process, therefore this list can guide you as you develop your course, not just at the end.
    • Course Overview and Introduction – The overall design of the course is made clear to the student at the beginning of the course.
    • Learning Objectives (Competencies) – Learning objectives are measurable and are clearly stated.
    • Assessment and Measurement – Assessment strategies are designed to evaluate student progress by reference to stated learning objectives, to measure the effectiveness of student learning; and to be integral to the learning process.
    • Instructional Materials – Instructional materials are sufficiently comprehensive to achieve stated course objectives and learning outcomes.
    • Learner Interaction and Engagement – Forms of interaction incorporated in the course motivate students and promote learning.
    • Course Technology – Course navigation and technology support student engagement and ensure access to course components.
    • Learner Support – The course facilitates student access to institutional support services essential to student success.
    • Accessibility – The course demonstrates a commitment to accessibility for all students

Indicators of Course Quality

Source: Quality Matters


  1. Communicate, communicate, communicate! Because you will not be seeing your students in-person, you will need to adjust/increase your communication as necessary to keep students engaged and to get a sense of how they are doing. As a general rule, you should be touching base with your students at least once a week using email or the Brightspace announcement forum
  2. Facilitate an icebreaker activity. Set up a Brightspace forum and ask students to introduce themselves in the first week of term. This is a great way to foster student engagement and community in your course. Students will respond better if you post your introduction first!
  3. Always login to your BBB or Zoom session 10 minutes before students are supposed to join to mitigate technical issues during your meeting time.
  4. Collect feedback from students a minimum of 2-3 times throughout the term. This will help you get a sense of how their learning experience is going (technical issues, accessing materials, course navigation, content questions, etc.). Visit the Feedback on Teaching resource for more details.
  5. Provide ongoing support for student mental health. Determine how to support depending on if they are stressed, distressed, or if it is an emergency. Be prepared to submit a Care Report if you are concerned about a student.

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