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The Course Design Institute at the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching


The CFT invites Vanderbilt faculty members to apply to its Course Design Institute on the theme of “Students as Producers.” During the three-day institute (May 7-9, 2018) participants will design (or redesign) courses that engage students not only as consumers of information, but producers of knowledge.


“Students as Producers”

Research by first- and second-year undergraduates conducted within a biology lab course. Proposals for museum acquisitions written by students in a course on African-American art. MRI machines built by engineering students in a design course. A class podcast on the latest healthcare policy research. Video documentaries created by future teachers to explore social and philosophical aspects of education. A water conservation education program aimed at children, developed by students in a service-learning course. Handcrafted creations in which theatre students show how history has influenced fashion design.


These are the kinds of products of student learning created in courses taught by Vanderbilt faculty who have adopted the “Students as Producers” approach to course design. Students in these courses were encouraged to tackle open-ended problems, to operate with a high degree of autonomy, and to share their work with wider audiences.

“Students as Producers” is shorthand for an approach to teaching that helps students become not just consumers of information, but also producers of knowledge, engaging in meaningful, generative work in the courses they take. Through this year’s Course Design Institute, the CFT continues its efforts to support instructors in building these high-impact teaching practices into their courses.


Benefits to Participants?

Course Design Institute participants will…

  • Learn and apply a process for designing courses in which learning objectives, activities, and assessments are aligned;
  • Enhance their understanding of how students learn and apply that understanding to teaching in their disciplines;
  • Design assignments that foster deep learning by engaging students in meaningful, generative work; and
  • Expand their network of fellow Vanderbilt educators, connecting with peers with similar teaching interests.

Participants will leave the institute with course plans and draft syllabuses for courses to be taught in the following academic year. Additionally, each VU faculty participant will receive $500 in research funds to be used to enhance their teaching.

For more on the Course Design Institute experience, read stories from past CDI participants.

“A lot of us come in to teaching positions without a lot of teaching experience. It’s intimidating, but the Course Design Institute gave me a lot of resources to connect with my students.” Gilbert Gonzales, Assistant Professor of Health Policy, 2016 participant

“The Course Design Institute is a really great way to get back into contact with teaching pedagogies in a short, quick, easy to digest three-day period.” Rebecca VanDiver, Assistant Professor of the History of Art, 2016 participant

Design Thinking

In support of Vanderbilt’s DIVE (Design as an Immersive Vanderbilt Experience) initiative, the Course Design Institute will include an optional introduction to design thinking for faculty interested in incorporating design thinking projects into their courses. Design thinking, also called human-centered design, is an approach to creative problem solving useful in a wide variety of contexts.

As articulated by DIVE, design thinking consists of five steps: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. Learning and applying this process can help students to tackle open-ended or ill-defined problems with creative confidence; to hear, understand, and value the perspectives of others; and to be resilient in the face of failure, knowing that the first solution to a problem is not always the best solution.

Design thinking isn’t the only way to bring a “Students as Producers” approach to a course, but it’s an interesting and useful way. For Course Design Institute participants who opt in to the design thinking session, the institute will provide an introduction to design thinking and assistance in crafting course assignments and assessments that feature human-centered design.


The Course Design Institute will consist of a mix of small-group and large-group sessions, as well as individual work time and teaching consultations with CFT staff. Lunches will be provided each day. For small-group sessions, participants will work in cohorts based on discipline and/or the kinds of student production their courses might involve.

Elements of the Course Design Institute are based on similar institutes hosted by the University of Virginia Center for Teaching Excellence and the Ohio State University Center for the Advancement of Teaching. Below is the 2018 institute schedule.


How do I apply?

The CFT Course Design Institute is open to all Vanderbilt faculty members—tenured, tenure-track, or non-tenure-track.

Applications for 2018 are no longer being accepted.