Working Group:
Choice-Based Course Design

What is Choice-Based Course Design?

Choice-Based Courses are intentionally designed to create options for students to choose the best ways for them to demonstrate their learning. There’s no single way to design a course with choice. Some options include:

  • A menu of assignments
  • Modules with pathways
  • An accumulation of points from a variety of activities
  • Differentiated options where students contract to earn a grade based on effort and complexity of work

What is the history of the Choice-Based Course Design group at UVM?

The idea was sparked from an example used in Cheating Lessons by James Lang, highlighting an instructor (John Boyer, Geography) at Virginia Tech who uses a menu of assignments for large classes. Faculty in a CTL-sponsored Cheating Lessons book group were intrigued by the possibilities and interest grew from there. In Summer 2020, a group of 5 faculty from across the disciplines redesigned courses to teach in Fall 2020. The courses ranged in size from 40 to 250 students and spanned the range from intro to upper-level.

How do students respond to choice-based courses?

In Fall 2020, as part of a Scholarship of Teaching & Learning (SoTL) research project, students and TAs in choice-based courses were surveyed. Data from these surveys will be fully analyzed in Summer 2021.

Literature shows that when students have increased agency, their motivation usually also increases. These two quotes from the student survey illustrate this connection between choice and engagement, as well as students’ self-report of increased mastery:

“I was able to choose what assignments to do which allowed me to complete more assignments when I didn’t understand material which then allowed me to understand the material. On the other hand, if I thoroughly understood the material, I did not bother with the assignments because I was already prepared. This helped me spend more time on [this class] when I needed it and more time on other courses when I needed more help with them instead.”

“When I get to pick the assignments I want to do, I end up learning more because I am more engaged and interested in the material. It helps me focus on certain assignments that suit my own needs, and I am not overly stressed nor underly stressed.”

In preliminary review of the survey responses, students’ constructive feedback tended to be about the need for incredibly organized courses, quick feedback, and a clear system for tracking progress.

What does it mean to join the Choice-Based Course Design working group?

The choice-based course design group allows faculty to receive peer feedback as they (re)develop a course. The group also meets regularly to discuss emergent issues and share resources.

If you are interested in this group, please contact CTL Educational Developer,
Jen Garrett-Ostermiller (