Accessible Education Office (click to go to home page)

1350 Massachusetts Avenue
The Richard A. & Susan F. Smith Campus Center, Fourth Floor
Cambridge MA 02138
tel: 617-496-8707 - fax: 617-496-1098 - tty: 617-496-3720

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Info for Faculty
+ Exams
+ Instructional Oversight
Essential Components of Courses and Curriculum
+ Universal Design Access
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Essential Components of Courses and Curriculum

  1. Rationale for defining essential components of courses and curriculum:

    • To articulate the overall purpose of the course.
    • To identify what skills, knowledge, principles and concepts in a course and/or curriculum that must be mastered and demonstrated by ALL students.
    • To develop a uniform standard for all students.
  2. Define essential course components (can be discussed in terms of task and skills analysis).

    • Are there preexisting abilities or skills all participating students must possess?
      For example, must students have computer skills? Must they have taken certain prerequisites or demonstrate a definable proficiency in order to take the course?
    • What other knowledge, background, is assumed?
    • Determine the components of a course.
      For example, a writing course could possibly have the following essential components: academic reading, academic writing and academic research -- students would come in with a variety of skills; and students would leave with the following skills (developed competencies): knowledge of the writing process, basic computer skills, familiarity with the University library system, and advanced knowledge of the components of a scholarly paper.
    • In order to identify essential components in a course, incorporate learning objectives, course descriptions, departmental standards and requirements, college standards and requirements into each syllabus.
    The overriding question to address is, what outcome variables are absolutely required of all participants?
  3. What methods of instruction are (non)negotiable?
    Methods of instruction should be examined to determine how information is taught and what alternative opportunities and avenues are available for teaching and learning the information, format of materials, skills, etc.

    • For example, auditory presentation of musical compositions may be necessary in a music appreciation course because of the nature and purpose of the course.
    • The use of slides as visual representations may be necessary in an art history course to show paintings.
  4. What methods of assessing outcome variables are absolutely necessary?
    For example, a French composition class may measure proficiency in writing in a foreign language for an in-class essay; or a medical student's proficiency in starting an IV must be assessed by physical performance because of skill development required by law and/or licensing requirements.
  5. Does the ability or skill need to be performed in the prescribed manner?
    For example, must the student use a graphing calculator in a course?
  6. What are acceptable levels of performance on these measures?
    For example, are there times in spontaneous essays that spelling is more important than other times? e.g.,100% of program competencies must be demonstrated; 80% of exam questions must be answered or performed correctly; 90% of portfolio must incorporate identified standards of excellence in the field.
  7. What skills or competencies will be needed in the field after graduation?
  8. What are the requirements for licensure or professional accreditation?


Louise H. Russell, Director, Accessible Education Office: Adapted from Scott, S. (1990). Coming to Terms With the Otherwise Qualified Student with a [Learning] Disability. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 23(7), 398-405.

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