Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

Kresge Library, Room 430
100 Library Drive
Rochester, Michigan 48309-4479
(location map)
(248) 370-2751
[email protected]

Person holding a megaphone with a speech bubble

Including Student Voices in Course Design

Mon Mar 18, 2019 at 07:30 AM

Students are more likely to feel engaged in a course when they see other students’ influence in its design, or even their own. When previous students share how they have persisted through difficult learning, current students are more confident in meeting the same challenges (Kernahan, 2019, pp. 138-139). These low-risk ways of letting students shape course design can not only engage students but also improve your course’s relevance and accuracy. Student voice could influence the current course and carry over to future courses.

Personalizing the syllabus.

Student voice in course design could begin as early as the first day of class with the syllabus: Open a Google Doc format of your syllabus with blank or open-to-edit sections, and have students work together to complete the syllabus. Any of these actions will likely need a follow-up discussion so that students can explain their choices and you, along with the class, can determine a final version.


  • Find a banner image to include at the top of this syllabus that best represents the course content and is not copyright-restricted. 
  • What should be some “ground rules” for online discussions? Determine not only a list of “don’ts,” but also things to do to make discussions more interesting, useful, and accessible.
  • What rules should we have for technology use in class? What will be most productive to learning?

Choosing course texts.

While we require students to read some texts, we often provide a menu of readings from which students can choose one or two. Since these “choose your own adventure” readings allow students to pick something that they relate to, also invite or require them to contribute relevant readings to the menu. Then, in future iterations of the course, include the best reading choices from previous semesters, clearly noting which were student contributions. This shows your openness to learn from students, and communicates that you value and use the contributions they offer.

Including student quotes in slides and assignment descriptions.

Quote your students in instructional material (slides, lectures, videos, course assignments), such as relevant pop culture references, instructive similes, feedback on assignments, and advice for the course. Students will be more engaged and motivated to provide good input when you ask for it. 


  • What movie do you think past students most often named as an example of Baudrillard’s concept of Simulacrum?
  • In last semester’s midterm feedback, students said that completing practice assignments was the most important way they prepared for the exam.
  • Since students last semester thought they could use another week on the final project, we are starting in Week 8 rather than 9.

Reflecting with resources for future students.

In lieu of a typical personal end-of-semester reflection assignment, ask current students to identify the most important course resources for future students. They can also offer general advice about how to navigate the course.


  • In Moodle, I have posted plenty of resources, but previous students have identified these five as the one they consulted every week, so we will talk about them in detail today.
  • Our institutional research shows that students who attend supplemental instruction (SI) get a full grade higher than those who don’t. A few students from last semester shared their experiences with SI...
  • At the end of last semester, about a third of students said they wished they had worked with the Writing Center early in their research writing process rather than only at the final editing phase. 


Kernahan, C. (2019). Teaching about race and racism: Notes from a white professor. West Virginia University Press.

Save and adapt a Google Doc version of this teaching tip.

Written and designed by Christina Moore, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Oakland University. Updated November 2020. Others may share and adapt under Creative Commons License CC BY-NC.

View all CETL Weekly Teaching Tips. Follow these and more on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.