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Teaching Using Canvas: Resources for J-Term or Condensed-Form Course Design

Designing a Condensed-Form Course

Designing and teaching a condensed-form course shorter than the traditional 15-weeks required a different approach.  To help assure your students have a successful learning experience, the course design cannot be your 15-week course squeezed into 7-weeks or in the case of J-Term compressed into 3-week. You need a different approach to the course and the design, this page provided a starting point on the journey to a developing and designing a condensed-form course.  

Top Tips for Getting a Condensed-Form Course Design Started

When it comes to condensed-form course design put your energy in these areas first:

Begin with your course Objectives

Writing clear objectives following the model for SMART learning objectives will help you make an emphasize on the most important a teachable components you will be able to cover in the shortened term. Setting solid SMART learning objectives, combined with some of the strategies covered below may help you deliver a great student learning experience with depth across the shortened time frame.

SMART Learning Objectives decoded: 

Simple – Use clear, direct language to tell the learner exactly what they should learn and/or what they should be able to do after the completing the learning activities. Don't be too vague, unclear, or use jargon they may have learned yet.

Measurable – Your assessments must align with the learning, be transparent to a point where the learning can be measured, observed, and recognized by both the learner and any other objective observer. The key here is the assessments cannot be too subjective or difficult to measure, a learner should be able to recognize when the have mastered the knowledge or skill.

Attainable (Achievable) – Your learning objective must be something your learners will be able to complete in the allotted time of a compressed course. Develop your curriculum and learning objectives with pre-existing knowledge in mind, try to meet your learners at a level where they will be adding to what they already know or further develop existing skills. While validating your objectives at this level, make sure your learning objective isn't too easy.

Relevant – In a compressed -term course pay particular attention to content relevance to the learner, don't teach material which isn't important to the objectives and/or won't be used or further applied in the course. When you set objectives where the learner can apply what they are learning in an authentic measurable way, the learner will more likely engage in and value the activities you are tasking them to complete. 

Timely – Learn and apply or learn and implement should be one of the focuses when writing your objectives. Develop objectives the learner can use in a timely manner like the next day, following weeks, or an upcoming assignment. Providing the learner opportunities to apply what they are learning in a timely way can also support the transfer of knowledge or mastery of skills. More on developing SMART Learning Objectives from SNHU

Rethink your Assessments

Research suggests brain function as related to learning requires both retention and recall. Retention occurs when the neural pathways are fully developed – this takes time as the brain moves items learned from working memory into long-term memory. Think about smaller assessments that can be scaffold, combined, and layered through the course progression allowing students to develop knowledge or skills working towards a specific end goal. The end goal could be a capstone styled presentation or cumulative project which demonstrates what they have learned. At each step allow time for the learner to make that knowledge transfer before you do an assessment and consider smaller formative assessments to check for learning. Additional Resource: Testing Whether Information is in Long-Term Storage - Dr. David Sousa 

Balance the Workload

Don't overload the daily activities to a point that the learner does not have time retain and apply what they are learning. As mentioned above it takes time for the brain to take information from the working memory and transfer it into retained knowledge. In a condensed-format course your curriculum design should allow time for this transfer to happen through pacing and balancing the workload. Build in time for students to consume information, retain that information, and then apply it (assessment) to further develop that knowledge or skill. It is important to balance and pace out the learning activities and assessments to allow the brain of the learner to do its job.

Dr. David Sousa offers a layered approach to curriculum in this blog article – Three Steps to Layering the Curriculum

Provide Specific Supports

Teaching a fully online asynchronous course limits the opportunities for direct instructor – learner interactions, without these types of interaction designing a course with purposeful supports becomes more important. Creating additional opportunities and assess to you as the instructor can help fill the gaps in instructor – learner interactions. Consider scheduled open "virtual" office hours or help sessions using your web conferencing Zoom account. Additionally, providing supplemental instructional resources like topic specific "mini-lectures" where you cover difficult areas in the course content you have observed learners struggling in the past. Sourcing supplemental resources that you can offer students to take a deeper dive into the content can also be useful for students that benefit from differentiated instruction. When selecting outside supplemental resources, be careful to only select content that supports your course goals, outcomes, and learning objectives. Learn more on Using Supplemental Resources in the Online Classroom here from Wiley Education Services Learn Why Adding Supplemental Resources to Online Courses is a Great Idea from the Online Learning Consortium blog. 

Have Solid Feedback Strategies

When teaching using the Canvas Learning Management System (LMS) instructors have several options available to provide timely authentic feedback including the SpeedGrader featured application. Developing a solid feedback strategy required that not only consider how you will provide feedback but to also consider how you will setup your assignments and assessments to best leverage the features of the LMS – especially when delivering a condensed-form course like a J-Term course. If you follow the recommendation to administer smaller scaffold assignments/assessments as outlined above, then you need to develop a strategy to provide timely feedback on those assignments or assessments.  

Timely authentic feedback should be clear and concise, provide redirection when needed, encouragement and useful critique which supports learners in meeting the course goals, outcomes, and learning objectives. If your expectation from your students is that they login daily and engage in their learning, you need to meet them with feedback during the learning process and not at the end of the term when they cannot act on the feedback. For feedback to be a benefit to your learners in a condensed course it needs to be timely and frequent. Do you want to know more? CHeck out this article on Edutopia – Timely Feedback: Now or Never by John McCarthy 


Additional Online Resources

Teaching a Condensed-Format Course - Iowa State University CETL

This resource is a quick read covering the characteristics of a successful condensed-format course including benefits along with the challenges. The page offers a download for a "Quick Guide to Teaching Condensed-Format Course"  in a Word document, and links out to other useful resources covering writing learning objectives, the Wake Forest University Enhanced Course Workload Estimator tool, and strategies for giving feedback.

This is such a great, well developed resource we felt it was better to offer this over creating one of our own.

Teaching Compressed-Format Courses: Teacher-Based Best Practices


This study provides insight into how highly rated instructors approached teaching compressed summer session courses, and offers a set of best practices that others might use when teaching in similar settings. Top-rated instructors indicated differences in the way they taught compressed-format summer session courses, with respect to course planning, classroom instruction, student assessment, and interaction with students. The study is of value to continuing educators, as universities are increasingly challenged to think about flexible delivery models, including teaching and learning in compressed formats.

- William J. Kops, University of Manitoba Canadian Journal of University Continuing Education / Vol. 40, No. 1, spring 2014


Teaching an Intensive Three-Week Course

Posted on  by Lisa Kurz

Introduction to the Blog Post

If you’re planning to teach a course during the three-week intensive session at the end of the fall 2020 semester, you may have lots of questions about course design and teaching strategies. Should your intensive course be simply a shorter version of a conventional 16-week course? What particular issues should you keep in mind as you design the course? How can you ensure that students have appropriate expectations in terms of workload? What teaching strategies should you use to facilitate student learning in this context? In this article we address these questions and provide guidelines for designing and teaching intensive courses.


Conditions that Enable Effective Feedback

Michael Henderson, Michael Phillips, Tracii Ryan, David Boud, Phillip Dawson, Elizabeth Molloy & Paige Mahoney (2019) , Higher Education Research & Development, 38:7, 1401-1416


Despite an increasing focus on assessment feedback, educators continue to find that simply replicating an effective feedback practice from one context does not guarantee success in the next. There is a growing recognition that the contextual factors surrounding successful practices need to be considered. This article reports on a large-scale mixed methods project and proposes 12 conditions that enable successful feedback in higher education. The conditions were distilled from seven rich case studies through multiple stages of thematic analysis, case comparison and reliability checking. The conditions were also evaluated by surveying senior leaders of Australian universities. These conditions highlight the importance of carefully designing feedback processes, along with the need for addressing capacity and culture for feedback. This helps to explain why there are such variances in effective feedback across contexts, and offers insight into how it may be achieved.


Assessment feedback has an important role in improving learners’ decision making, and ultimately improving their learning outcomes. However, despite the importance of feedback, it is often under-utilised, particularly in higher education (Pitt & Norton, 2017). This is due to the widespread misconception that feedback is one-way performance-related information given by the educator to the learner (Boud & Molloy, 2013b). This often takes the form of written comments or mark-up on an assessment task; the flavour of which is focused on justifying the assessed grade (Carless & Boud, 2018). One of the most significant limitations of this ‘delivery’ model of feedback is that it does little in supporting the agency of the learner in improving their work (Boud & Molloy, 2013b).

In contrast with this ‘delivery’ model of feedback, scholars are working to... read full article

HEA Feedback Toolkit

- from the Higher Education Academy, March 2013


A popular view of feedback might be along the lines of seeing it as the correction of errors, or as letting students know their results in assessed work, informing them how accurate, or not, the evidence of their learning proved to be.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines feedback as:

  • information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement.
  • the modification or control of a process or system by its results or effects, for example in a biochemical pathway or behavioural response.

Within this toolkit the emphasis is on a particular idea of 'formative feedback', used in relation to assessment to enhance or improve student learning:

Formative feedback is any information, process or activity which affords or accelerates student learning based on comments relating to either formative assessment or summative assessment activities' Formative feedback Any task or activity which creates feedback (or feedforward) for students about their learning. Formative assessment does not carry a grade which is subsequently used in a summative judgement' (Irons, 2007, p.7)

Summative assessment Any assessment activity which results in a mark or grade which is subsequently used as a judgement on student performance. Ultimately judgements using summative assessment marks will be used to determine the classification of award at the end of a course or programme. (Irons, 2007, p.7)

Access the complete HEA Toolkit