Colleen Dockstader

Colleen Dockstader, Department of Human Biology

Photo credit: Wes Adams, CTSI

COURSE: HMB450H1S, Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Disease
DEPARTMENT: Human Biology
INSTRUCTOR: Colleen Dockstader
LEAD DEVELOPER: Colleen Dockstader

This course focuses on the development of the human brain and the issues that arise when normal processes become aberrant or inhibited.  The learning outcomes of the course are: 1) to possess a firm knowledge of basic concepts in developmental neuroscience through critical and analytical thinking; 2) to identify changes in basic biological mechanisms that lead to system changes; 3) to interpret case studies that illustrate core concepts.  Within the course curriculum, students will engage in essay writing, problem-solving, case-study analysis, and team collaboration.

I am new to teaching (only two semesters under my belt when I took the Course Design/Redesign Institute!). This is a new course to the Human Biology program, proposed and being developed by me. It will take place seven months from now in Winter 2017.

I recently made the move from full-time research to full-time teaching so before the CDI I felt like so many things were either an opportunity and/or a challenge.  I came to the Institute as a sponge – ready to soak up all I could learn about course design and student learning!

Particular teaching and learning opportunities and challenges in my course design included:

  1. How do I promote effective student engagement and interaction on a regular basis in a class of 50 students?
  2. How do I conduct effective, regular assessment of student learning without getting overwhelmed with marking? (I will not have a TA)
  3. What is the best way to integrate case study presentations into the curriculum to highlight core concepts?


  1. Student Engagement and Interaction – I was introduced to literally dozens of activities that can occur during class time to engage and involve learners.  To activate knowledge of material learned in the prior lecture I will incorporate a one-minute paper in which they can ‘think, pair, share’: think and write their paper individually, pair with another and discuss their papers, share their papers in a class discussion.  To provide context and expectations the students and I will collectively create a concept map of the material learned and today’s lesson.  The instructional process will include a variety of lecturettes, video clips, and problem-solving activities.  At the end of class I will have them check out using various strategies that demonstrate what their take-aways were from the lesson.
  2. Regular Assessment that is not overwhelming to me – By including group activities in-class that can be assessed immediately (group presentations, group quizzes) and online Blackboard quizzes that are scored by the software I will be able to provide multiple modes of assessment without being overwhelmed by marking.
  3. Using Case Studies to highlight new concepts – During the Barrier Busting exercise in the Course Design/Redesign Institute I realized that students would be best-served by presenting a case study during each class to demonstrate the concept learned during that lesson.  I have changed the case study group presentations from the last weeks of the semester to occurring throughout the semester.  These weekly case study student presentations will be narrow in focus and serve to highlight the particular concept used that day.

YOUR BIGGEST “TAKE AWAY” FROM THE COURSE DESIGN INSTITUTE?It’s really difficult to pick just one (or three) as the ‘take-aways’ were ongoing over the two days. If I narrowed it down to two main elements I would say my biggest take-aways were:

  • Work backwards – start at the end and decide what learning outcomes the student will have achieved by the end of the course.  Designing the course with the big picture in mind – rather than being driven by content – allows me to approach the material in a clearer, fluid and more organic way.
  • The many ways of engaging students – I had NO idea of the many, many strategies that can be included in lesson planning to engage and involve learners for a more active-learning environment.  A classroom never has to be (or should be) dull and passive.  CTSI-recommended strategies can make a classroom exciting and dynamic.

The Institute was only recent –  so not yet – but I intend to use a considerable number of sources they provided (online and in-person).

Start at the end.  I have outlined my learning outcomes and the BLOOM/FINK components I wish to apply. Now to work backwards from there and determine the specific course content and instructional approaches that will lead to the best student experience and outcomes.

The helpfulness of the CTSI staff, workshop design, and workshop delivery exceeded all of my expectations, at every level.  I left the Institute feeling confident as I had a very clear understanding of my course goals and how to execute them.  I also now know dozens of resources, both inside and outside of CTSI, which I can use in the further design and execution of all my courses.