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Module Design and Enhancement Overview

These pages will help you design or redesign modules so that your students are encouraged to engage in the curriculum and develop deep learning, critical thinking and research skills. In a research-intensive university such as UCD, it is important to have strong and varied links between research and teaching in ways that promote student research and enquiry.

Research-Teaching Nexus

The nature of student research and enquiry

 Graph describing students as research participants


Source: Healey and Jenkins (2009, 7; amended from Healey, 2005, 70)


The important module design question

It is worthwhile to ask yourself the question “ If I had a blank sheet and was starting from scratch how would I design the module to promote student engagement, deep learning, critical thinking and research skills? ”

There are many approaches to curriculum design and you may wish to continue to expand your repertoire of approaches.  One current approach emphasises focusing the curriculum on threshold concepts in order to help students really understand the key but troublesome concepts in their discipline so they can think and practice in new ways.

Sometimes the students may experience the curriculum as disjointed so helping students make connections between different elements of the curriculum through integrative learning and enquiry and problem-based learning can enhance student learning.  All module design approaches benefit from a consideration of inclusivity and accessability using universal design principles. For easily implementable guidelines see Top Seven Tips on Inclusive Module Design

Curriculum alignment in module design

 graph showing contributors to curriculum alignment in module design


When designing a module, the three key points that you need to keep in mind are:

  1. The starting point for good module design is the ability to write effective and relevant learning outcomes.
  2. Your assessment regime should assess the learning outcomes and reward evidence of criticality. You should, therefore, study our web-pages on assessment.
  3. The way you teach, the way you assess and your module design should all be constructively aligned.

Research into teaching and learning has identified four factors related to module design that tend to encourage the development of criticality and four factors that tend to discourage it. To read more about these factors, click here.

A review of a module might start by evaluating how well the existing design matches up to the principles shown above.  You will also want to gather data on how your students have experienced the module and take advantage of any insights they may be able to give you.  For this reason we have included some advice on how to gather feedback from students.

It can also be enlightening to have colleagues advise you on how you might develop the teaching and learning strategies used in the module. For this reason, we have included links to our peer-observation of teaching web-pages which show you one very effective way of gathering useful feedback from colleagues.

You might also be interested in our web-pages giving details of the UCD module enhancement project

Enhancing your Module

Attempts at module enhancement should be focused on understanding:

  1. How well a module has been delivered in terms of its intended educational outcomes, and…
  2. ...the quality of student learning which has taken place. 

The goal is to understand what is working well and what might need some adjustment in order to facilitate more effective learning for future offerings of the module.  Module enhancement is a responsive and reflective activity based on the assumption that there are many variables at play which have an influence on how a module runs.  These can include, indicatively, variables like:

  1. Range of student abilities;
  2. Levels of student engagement;
  3. Clarity of student understanding about the outcomes and content of the module;
  4. Teaching interactions between staff and students;
  5. Complexity of assessment tasks.

As a module coordinator you are entrusted with responsibility for ensuring the on-going quality and relevance of some of your school’s modules.  In taking an enhancement approach to the delivery of your modules, you could use the following questions to take a “step back” to review how well a module is achieving its aims:

a. In your view what aspects of this module worked really well?  Why did they work well?
bWhat aspects of this module could be enhanced for the future? How might these be achieved?
cHow well do the learning outcomes you have designed, express clearly what it is you expect students to learn in terms of the range of material? How clear is the level of academic understanding you expect the students to reach?
dHow well does the design of the student workload support the intended learning outcomes of the module in terms of: contact time; range and timing of assessments?
e. What does the pattern of student grades for your module suggest in terms of how well students are achieving the learning outcomes you have set?
f. How well do you think your assessments help students’ learning and test their understanding of the material covered?
g. What does student feedback reveal about their experience of the module?

In all matters to do with design and assessment of modules please be sure to be familiar with the UCD General Regulations in the UCD Governance Document Library.

The specially prepared guides for the Module Enhancement Project may also be of use.

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