Curriculum Design & Refresh

Several tools are available to support curriculum design and refresh activities with course teams. This page highlights some of the tools in this area and outlines the Curriculum Design Studio – an immersive think tank activity for course teams.

The Curriculum Design Studio

The Curriculum Design Studio is typically a half day event which can be facilitated for course teams to refresh existing curriculum or to design new courses. Some of the tools and processes are described here.

Radar design tool



The Radar Design tool helps a small group to create a focus for their design thinking.

  • First, individuals look at each concept label on the spider diagram. Using the description on the reverse, each person decides for themselves how useful it will be to discuss this aspect of Learning Spaces. If it is important, you should put a mark on the outer edge of the diagram. Less important aspects are indicated by putting a mark closer to the centre.
  • Second, each individual should join up all their mark which creates a shape making it easier to compare.
  • Last, as a group, compare your shapes and priorities. Discuss discrepancies and similarities. Decide on a small number of dimensions that you think it would be valuable to work on.

The categories on the radar tool are the same as the Viewpoints Cards, so using the radar tool before a Viewpoints activity can help to focus a design discussion.

Viewpoints Design Lens

Viewpoints CardsThe Learning Spaces Viewpoints Cardset, available from this link, provides individuals or groups with ideas structured around key ideas.

Each card has two sides:

  • On the front of each card, you will find a key principle idea to think about – a good starting point is to spend five minutes thinking about each idea. Ideally, discuss the ideas with partners in a small group asking, “How does this relate to my current practice?” and then, “How could this relate to my practice?” Make a few notes. When you have discussed all of the cards, turn them over.
  • On the back of each card, you will find suggestions in support of the principle on the front. They are ideas you can consider and adapt.

The Learning Spaces Viewpoints cards have been developed by academics at Sheffield Hallam through workshops. This set of cards is one of many available through the Teaching Essentials Toolkits. The approach uses different ‘lens’ sets to help individuals, Peer Review & Enhancement partnerships, and course teams to design, review or generate alternative ways of teaching and engaging learners based on good practice principles. You can use one or more design lens sets in a design activity.


The Viewpoints method

Viewpoints is one of the key tools used in the Curriculum Design Studio. The approach uses different ‘lenses’ that can help the course team to design and review the curriculum and think about new ways of teaching and engaging learners. Each Viewpoints set is based on established good practice principles.

Two sets of Viewpoints lens cards are available for this toolkit: Active Learning and Active Lectures. You can use one set or both, and you can introduce other card sets from other toolkits if you are running a Curriculum Design Studio event. Colleagues in LEAD will facilitate Curriculum Design Studio workshops for your department. You are free to use these materials to explore these ideas without external input.

Curriculum Design Studios are usually initiated by Course Leaders.

First, invite and brief a multi-stakeholder design team. The team will be composed of academics including the course leader and the module leaders. They will be joined by fellow academics, students, alumni, employer representatives and anyone else who can bring a useful perspective to the design. An e-learning adviser may be helpful for example. Set up a Curriculum Design Studio design event. Schedule it to last between two and three hours.

Prior to the Curriculum Design Studio event

Prior to the event, you may want to think about the following:

  • Optionally, hold a pre-meeting for the academic members of the design team. Use a dashboard that draws together evaluation headlines from recent cohorts. LEAD and STEER staff can help Course Leaders to produce dashboards. Key information about University and Departmental priorities can also be incorporated into the dashboard display. The dashboards can be used to support focused possibility thinking amongst academic course team and help course design participants to identify ideas later in the design studio process.
  • As Course Leader, identify and share links to a portfolio of briefing papers from one or more toolkits that you would like the design team to think about prior to the event.
  • Communication of Course Level Learning Outcomes (CLOs) – it is recommended that these are shared in a document to all participants, but also that a screencast presentation is made by the Course Leader talking through each of the CLOs.
  • Further screencasts can be produced at the discretion of the Course Leader, for example, to clarify for the benefit of all course design teams participants, where the course relates to others course and modules in a programme.

The main Curriculum Design Studio event

In the main Curriculum Design Studio event, design teams will explore ideas, share practice and experience, and seek to make connections across modules and levels. Usually, the event will be facilitated by a member of the LEAD or a faculty LTA leader. This ensures the course leader is free to work amongst the multi-stakeholder design team.

Mostly the design team will work intensively together for about an hour exploring possibilities, forming ideas and mapping these into one or more module timelines. The approach is most effective when three core modules are considered in parallel so that synoptic connections can be made in a way that enriches the students’ experience of the course.

Review Phase

The Design Studio activity usually begins in a Review Phase by using the Radar Review tools. Individuals first reflect quietly, identifying those principles in the toolset that they think can help most in forming a coherent course design. This will help individuals in the design team to focus in on a subset of possibilities.

  • Radar Review tool for Active Learning – rate what do you think is important, then compare this with what others have marked up.
  • Radar Review tool for Active Lectures – rate what do you think is important, then compare this with what others have marked up.

Alternatively, techniques such as Diamond 9 can be used to help design groups to identify what is most and least important to them.

Making Phase

Following the initial Review Phase in which participants focus on principle-based priorities, participants move into a Making Phase by using the Viewpoints cards to inform the creation of design strategies and identification of activities for modules.

  • Active Learning – a set of cards designed to inspire participants based on Bonwell &Eison (1991)
  • Active Lectures –  a set of cards designed to inspire participants about what can be achieved in existing spaces.

Design teams use large A0 timeline sheets onto which they place cards in a negotiated sequence representing their thinking. Teams annotate the timeline and explain why they have placed cards on the timeline, highlighting key points and ideas, as useful.

Capture Phase

The design teams will need to photograph their timelines, taking care to capture all annotations. Finally, using a tablet or smartphone, teams will film their timeline, complete with cards and annotations in place. As the camera passes over the timeline, members of the course team will explain their thinking as a commentary, reading out annotations as the go. Care must be taken to ensure the commentary is clear and that ideas are explained properly. Ideas from the design workshop activity can also be written up by participants using this form: Design Capture Form.

Design Building Phase

Module and Course Leaders will later review all of the materials used and generated in the event as the basis for writing up the course design proposals.

Who are we designing for?

Thinking about the different needs of your students

Cards describing student archetypes

Cards describing student archetypes

The Applied Learning Academic Interest Group has created a set of Student Archetype Cards – these are descriptions of diverse student types based on real students. The cards can be used with course teams in various ways to ensure the design of courses and activities meet the needs of their diverse students.

Here are the printable Archetype cards in pdf format and the same cards as a downloadable and editable Powerpoint file.

The cards can be used with course teams in various ways to ensure the design of courses and activities meet the needs of their diverse students.

You can,

  • Begin by thinking about three of your own students – list and briefly describe your most exciting, most challenging and most surprising students from last year.
  • Now see if you can find close matches between the archetypes described on the cards and the students you know personally.
  • Based on the archetypes you have generated by remembering your students, and others you have found in the cards, discuss with your colleagues the suitability of your teaching and support practices. Discuss what you can do to improve them.

Further information

Information about curriculum design and validation can be found in the Curriculum Design toolkit.