Differentiating 400/500 Level Courses

Undergraduate and graduate students are very different audiences, yet we often put them together in the same course. How do we create a learning experience that meets the needs of each group?

Teaching a 400/500 level cross listed course is tricky. After all, undergraduate and graduate students are very different audiences, and yet we put them all in the same course. All too often the undergrads are intimidated and the grad students are frustrated. Making matters worse, did you know that some doctoral programs won't permit students to transfer in 400/500 courses if they cannot clearly see the difference between the two levels? How can we create a learning experience that meets the needs of both groups?

What’s the problem? Lack of clarity.

  • Balance: Faculty struggle to meet the needs of very different groups of students.
  • Learning: Students get frustrated that content and activities are too difficult or too easy.
  • Accreditation: HLC reviewers pay close attention to these courses to ensure that graduate students are doing graduate-level work.
  • Transfer: For the subset of graduate students who go on to doctoral programs, some have encountered resistance about transferring credits that look like an undergraduate course.

What’s the solution? Split them up.

  • Minimum Standard: Create separate learning objectives and assessments for the two sections.
  • Best Practice: Write separate syllabi for the two sections that clearly differentiate through course description, learning outcomes, and learning activities.

What does that look like? Map your outcomes to your activities.

  1. What do you want each group of students to be able to know or do when they finish the course? Create a set of learning outcomes that describes what each group will be able to do at the end of the term.
  2. How will you recognize and assess their knowledge or ability to do those things? Consider creating separate assignments. When using the same assignment, create two rubrics to assessing the different levels expected in student work.
  3. What activities will help students learn and practice that knowledge and skills? Design assignments and other learning activities that allow students to demonstrate their ability to meet the course outcomes for their course level.

For assistance with writing learning outcomes and planning assessments, contact the University Assessment Coordinator. You can also contact the IT Solutions Academic Technology instructional designers.

CETL also has a short asynchronous online course to help you learn how to make these distinctions easily. Certificates of completion are awarded to faculty who complete the course, implement one or more of the techniques, and meet with me or one of the instructional designers. The course consists of three modules and takes 30-45 minutes to complete.

Contact CETL (cetl@mnsu.edu) to be enrolled.