Short Courses / Part-of-Term Courses: Condensing Course Content

UNC Charlotte is now offering shorter courses, sometimes called “part-of-term courses,” to better meet the needs of our diverse students. As an instructor looking to condense a course to this new formart, shorter courses bring a new challenge: determining the appropriate balance of efficiency and rigor in the higher learning experience. Whether you need to transform your exisiting 16-week course into a 8-week or 5-week format, the follwing strategies will help.

Benefits and Challenges of a Shorter Format Course


  • More directly focused on outcomes
  • Encourages more succinct learning objectives
  • Faster grading turnaround for student


  • Faster grading turnaround for instructor
  • Keeping students on task
  • Courses can be overwhelming to students

High Quality Courses in a Condensed Format

Shorter courses allow the instructor to focus more on the outcomes of academic rigor and efficiency.

Successfully Shortened Courses:

  • Are well planned
  • Use various methods for face to face instruction (microlectures, small group work, individual work, etc.)
  • Utilize a multitude of teaching strategies
  • Focus on learning outcomes and student assessment (Kops, 2014)

A well-built condensed course should also focus on its specific goal(s), which should ensure that the student leaves the class having learned the essential knowledge and skills.

Consider 4 perspectives:

  • A vision of the student and what their needs are in such a format
  • Course content selection
  • Evidence-based assessment tightly aligned with course outcomes
  • Organization and delivery of content

Planning Workload

For faculty, condensed courses result in changes to pacing, structure, and assessments in courses. For students, condensed classes result in an obvious increase in in-class and out of class work required per week. Knowing these numbers can help you plan instruction.

All graduate and undergraduate courses are described in terms of academic credit hours. UNC Charlotte adheres to a commonly accepted definition of the academic credit hour which all academic units are expected to follow. For more information, please read the academic policy. The policy requires “750 minutes direct faculty instruction per credit hour over length of semester and 1500 minutes of out of class student work per credit hour over the length of the semester.”

Faculty instruction (time per week)

Student out of class work (time per week)

Total student time on task per week for a course

15 weeks

1 credit

50 min

1 hr, 40 min

2 hr, 30 min

2 credits

1 hr, 40 min

3 hr, 20 min

5 hrs

3 credits

2 hr, 30 min

5 hrs

7 hr, 30 min

8 weeks

1 credit

1 hr, 34 min

3 hr, 8 min

4 hr, 42 min

2 credits

3 hr, 8 min

6 hr, 15 min

9 hr, 23 min

3 credits

4 hr, 41 min

9 hr, 23 min

14 hr, 4 min

5 weeks

1 credit

2 hr, 30 min

5 hrs

7 hr, 30 min

2 credits

5 hrs

10 hrs

15 hrs

3 credits

7 hr, 30 min

15 hrs

22 hr, 30 min

Analyzing and Determining Course Content

Wilson (2007) emphasizes the importance of prioritized learning and distinguishes between “must know” (prerequisite ideas) and “need to know” (less critical at the moment but must know later), and “nice to know” (can be put off without jeopardizing baseline knowledge) [Wilson (2007). When backward is forward thinking: Radical changes in instructional designs for summer school, as cited in Kops (2014)].

For quality courses, instructional strategies should focus on “must know” and “need to know” knowledge.

Take an inventory of the content to break down and prioritize content based on what students:

  • “Must know” – prerequisite ideas. These are the objectives that are absolutely necessary for understanding. These objectives may be used for rapid acceleration or for remediation.
  • “Need to know” – less critical at the moment but must know later. These are less imperative knowledge and skills that may be de-emphasized without placing the learner in immediate jeopardy.
  • “Nice to know” – can be put off without jeopardizing baseline knowledge. This is usually information that adds substance, breadth, or interest to a subject or a skill.

A typical breakdown of this inventory for a general astronomy class may look like this:

Must know

Should know

Nice to know

Prerequisite ideas

Less critical, but must know later

Can be put off without jeopardizing baseline knowledge

Types of galaxies

Kepler mathematical rules for orbits

Explanations for dark matter

Course mapping can be a useful strategy for making these decisions and completing this thought work. Use the resource here for a course map template and example course maps for actual courses: Course Map Conversion Template

Revise Course Content Delivery

Try a flipped learning strategy. In a flipped classroom:

  • Out of class: Students become acclimated with new concepts and terminology via digital media, such as video. They may take notes and jot questions for further consideration. This work would count towards some of the required hours that students must work out of class. To improve active learning of content, provide worksheets for each video, short quizzes on video content, or journal entries for each video. Examples of Video Tools:

    • Kaltura Capture Space in Canvas
    • Camtasia
    • Studio recording​
  • During class: Students explore new concepts through learning activities, peer discussions, group work, and 1:1 interactions with the teacher.
  • After Class: Students continue checking for understanding through higher order assessment and activities.This evaluation can take the form of online quizzes, creating a content map, or peer reviewed writing responses.

Revise Course Assessments


The shortened time frame of the course creates a logistical issue for planning, implementing, and evaluating student work that can be partially solved through the use of one bigger project due at the end of the semester that is broken down into smaller pieces each week.

If students are working in groups, the scope of the project can be broadened enough to ensure an adequate workload across all students (i.e. in groups, students create a 10 page report rather than individual 3 page reports). This larger project would take the place of the typical, smaller assessments that would have been assigned and collected over a longer 16 week period. The difference between the two examples below is not in student effort. Instead it is in student focus. Focusing on four or five distinct assessments in a condensed course can feel very rushed and fragmented for students. If there is one BIG assessment though that is broken down into stages, the content seems more manageable.

Instead of: You would have:
Paper 1
Paper 2
Paper 3
Paper 4
Project Milestone 1
Project Milestone 2
Project Milestone 3
Project Milestone 4
Final Project

Projects can result in a number of different products. Official Project-Based Learning (PBL) is more formal in its approach and can be adapted as a starting point for projects in your course. The Seven-Phase Model for Project-Based Learning is discussed in more detail on the following websites:

Authentic Assessment

Authentic assessment helps to place what students are learning in real world context, which can help to increase student motivation in a condensed course.

Authentic assessments:

  • Result in a product that students would create in the real world.
  • Ask questions that are relevant to specific competencies required in the field of study
  • Can be scenario based
  • Require students to develop their own responses, rather than select from multiple choice options
  • Teach students to evaluate their own work

Discussion Forums in Online Courses:

Discussion forums can be difficult to implement in online courses without the time crunch of a shortened course; however, they are a great way of interacting with your students and setting up opportunities for students to interact with one another.

Discussion Forum Strategies and Tips


Kops, W. (2013). Teaching Compressed-Format Courses: Teacher-Based Best Practices, 40(1), 18.

Additional Resources

Teaching Compressed-Format Courses: Teacher-Based Best Practices (Kops, 2013)
This study provides insights on how instructors approached teaching a condensed summer session and offers a set of best teaching practices that other instructors might use when teaching in a similar setting.

Extending the Conversation on Online Course Length (Inside Higher Ed)
This article discusses the current trend in higher education away from semester-long course offerings toward condensed courses, and why they will become more visible at many universities in the foreseeable future.

The Benefits of Intensive Summer Courses (ChronicleVitae)
This article offers quick insights on the benefits of shorter, condensed courses for the summer and any time of the year. There are also several suggestions on teaching a condensed course.

Twelve tips for effective short course design (Lockyer, 2009)
This article discusses ways in which components of curriculum can be condensed into a shorter format