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Course Design Institute

Stanford faculty and lecturers discuss teaching practices at the annual Course Design Institute.

How Your Support Leads to More Engaged Students

Gifts through The Stanford Fund enable Stanford professors and lecturers to design better courses and improve the student experience.

Designing a course that lives up to Stanford's academic reputation can be a challenge.

What critical information do students need to learn? What's the most engaging way to impart that information? What are the latest technology tools used to evaluate learning? And, perhaps most importantly, how can faculty answer these questions and create a compelling experience for students?

Gloriana Trujillo, the director of faculty and lecturer programs and the organizer of Stanford's Course Design Institute (CDI), suggests, "Start from the end! Develop course goals and then map those back to a class structure, exercises, and even textbooks."

This is one of many strategies shared in the Course Design Institute, an intensive, hands-on program designed for faculty and instructors who wish to optimize their courses with cutting-edge, research-proven teaching strategies. CDI is run by Stanford's Center for Teaching and Learning, a part of the Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning. During the three-day program, faculty work with experienced facilitators to develop course components and reflect on teaching practices, sharing their learning collaboratively with other participants. Following the program, quarterly check-ins provide faculty with continued support, and additional services are offered including tools to request and analyze student feedback and peer teaching observations.

Originally, the program was offered every other year to new faculty members. Now, with the support of Stanford Fund donors, the program runs annually and has expanded to include all academic staff.


"I had never taught a class before participating in the Course Design Institute. The program helped me to think deeply about what I want my students to learn, and how I can best make that happen."


—Tobias Gerstenberg, Assistant Professor of Psychology


CDI was developed in 2011 by Robyn Dunbar, associate dean for educational affairs in the School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences, and Sheri Sheppard, professor of mechanical engineering in the School of Engineering. Robyn and Sheri wanted a way to share the latest in pedagogy and educational theory with Stanford faculty to help Stanford students get the most out of their educational experiences. The program builds off of evidence-based and inclusive learning and teaching practices, including a learner-centered approach.


"I used CDI to develop a required survey course and ended up turning it into a show piece that I'm really proud of. The biggest takeaway was how to develop big picture goals and then clarifying how they should manifest in all aspects of the course.


—Roanne Kantor, Assistant Professor of English



The CDI has lofty goals. It offers faculty and lecturers an immersive opportunity to design a new class, or improve a class they are currently teaching. At the same time, it aims to build a sense of community among Stanford academic staff, ensuring they have a network of peers with whom they can brainstorm and collaborate. Gloriana describes the end result as, "better organized courses, backed up by a community of Stanford professors and staff willing to provide advice and support." 


"As a starting faculty member I was passionate about teaching but didn't really know what student-centered learning meant. During the CDI, I was introduced to a fantastic community of experienced educators that helped me to identify key strategies I could use to improve. The CDI is a great way to launch your teaching from a solid foundation; it was truly a game-changer for me."


—Jose R. Dinneny, Associate Professor of Biology


For current students, the Course Design Institute means Stanford professors are offering engaging learning experiences, pairing academic knowledge with proven teaching strategies, to help students learn more effectively. As one student told a CDI-trained professor, "I'm enjoying your class so much so far! Studying this material has been exactly what I wanted from my Stanford education."