Resource Title:
Foundational Course Initiative: 21st Century Teaching at Scale
Course Type:
Foundational Course Initiative

Basic Information

What makes a course foundational?

Foundational courses (FCs) all share a variety of features. They are distinguished for being extreme, to varying degrees, across a range of different characteristics.

  • They are gateways to the major or a primary introduction to the discipline. 
  • They enroll large numbers of students every term: these are topics that a significant fraction of our students need to learn.
  • They serve students with especially diverse backgrounds, interests, and goals. Student success in FCs can vary widely.
  • They are relatively stable, with a long history of regular offerings, often retaining the same course names and numbers for decades.
  • They are collectively owned, i.e., most faculty in the course’s home department share a slowly evolving understanding of course goals.
  • They regularly change instructors, often being taught by more than one instructor per term, whether sequentially or in parallel. FCs are time consuming to teach and manage.

What are the goals for foundational courses? 

  1. A 21st Century Approach to Student Success: Foundational courses should maintain rigor and have the success of all students as their goal.
  2. Evidence-Based Course Design: Disciplinary experts and education professionals address course-specific challenges as a team while adding to our theory and knowledge of teaching and learning.
  3. A New Standard for Excellence: Michigan's foundational courses should be the best in the nation, continuously innovating, assessing success, and setting the standard for higher education.

Why participate?

Motivations for participating in the FCI will vary among courses and disciplines, but for any foundational course, there are a number of possible reasons to participate.

  • Explore possibilities for course design and pedagogy that leverage emerging technologies.
  • Support, evolve, and institutionalize reforms pioneered by early adopters.
  • Create opportunities for intergenerational mentoring on teaching.
  • Develop new course models that highlight the benefits of a residential research setting.
  • Infuse evidence-based pedagogies that:
    • Support the learning and success of all students.
    • Improve motivation and engagement.
    • Increase student perception of educational value.
  • Collaborate to tackle challenges, such as:
    • In some courses, student success and satisfaction are low.
    • Teaching these courses alone is difficult, and team support can help make improvements possible.
FCI Participants

Who participates?

Collaborative Course Design teams, including educational experts from CRLT and instructional teams drawn from the departments, work together to transform foundational courses. CRLT's FCI staff will provide help with course design, education technology, assessment and analytics, and student support. They will be supported in this work by a group of faculty advisors and student employees, and will work in coordination with a wide range of existing instructional support units in schools and colleges across campus.

Read more about CRLT staff on CCD teams.

Read more about departmental committments to CCD teams.

What is the process?

Collaborative Course Design (CCD) balances commitments made by departments with contributions made by the FCI team. The CCD process plays out in five stages (below). The process begins with consultations aimed at creating a plan tailored to the needs of the course in question, expressed as a Memorandum of Understanding between the host department and the FCI team. At the end of the CCD process, the course will be declared “Foundational”, and enter long-term maintenance mode as one of Michigan’s exemplars of world class teaching at scale.

  1. Consultation & Proposal: FCI works with department stakeholders on a formal proposal to enter the CCD process.
  2. Exploration & Design: CCD team meets regularly to study the course and its students and to develop learning objectives, select pedagogies, and design assignments.
  3. Development & Testing: CCD team meets regularly while the pilot version of a reformed course is taught. The course becomes a learning laboratory, as new approaches are implemented and assessed.
  4. Delivery & Reporting: Faculty teach the “final” revised course and work with the CCD team on a report describing evidence of success and ongoing needs for support.
  5. Certification & Foundational Status: FC status is granted by a Faculty Advisory Board after review of the CCD team report. FCs receive ongoing support and, after 3 years, the course is reviewed to identify opportunities for further innovation.

Read more about the Collaborative Course Design Process.

Want to learn more? Ready to get involved?

Please contact us.

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