Planning a Compressed Course

Compressed or accelerated courses require instructors to pay special attention to course design to ensure a robust and manageable course.

In planning an accelerated or compressed course, whether a summer or part-term course, draw on the principles of backward design. These allow you to focus on the learning outcomes essential for students and to build the course content and activities with those in mind. Ask yourself what learning objectives can be reasonably met in the time you have.

Whether you are planning your accelerated course from scratch or converting an existing full-term course, use your learning objectives to help determine what students “must-know” (prerequisite ideas), what they “need to know” (what they must know later later), and what would be “nice [for students] to know” (extra information that can be skipped) (Kops, 2014). The Iowa State Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning offers the following example for an Astronomy course:

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


Quick Guide to Planning Condensed Courses

This table guides you through important elements of course design:


My course has less time or more condensed time for students to . . . Which I can address if I . . .
Read content
  • Select most pertinent readings
  • Give individual students or small groups a choice of readings and have them share the key findings (e.g., jigsaw, discussion forum)
  • Turn in a reflection of guided reading questions
Process new information
  • Reduce new information
  • Simplify the presentation of new information
  • Provide advanced organizers, diagrams
  • Provide skeleton notes before class session
  • Provide study guide after class session
Reflect on their experience
  • Provide reflection questions
  • In the middle of class, pause, and ask students to reflect on learning to date 
Study for exams
  • Place more emphasis on application and synthesis in exams; less on remembering
  • Replace exams with other types of assessments (pre-assessment quizzes, weekly quizzes instead of 2 exams a semester)
Redo or resubmit work
  • Clarify assignment expectations
  • Provide a detailed rubric
  • Show an excellent and unsatisfactory a poor example
  • Allow students to drop a lowest score
Ask for help on course-related components
  • Be very clear in communicating expectations (e.g., length, format, grading criteria)
  • Prepare student questions and address them
  • Provide examples of what projects look like in real-world practice 
Seek support (e.g., tutoring, academic coach, wellness, etc.)
  • Direct students to the campus resources section of the Montclair Syllabus, included in all Canvas courses (make sure that you do not overwrite if you “course copy”)
Review foundational knowledge (pre-requisites)
  • Provide these resources at the outset
  • Ask students to review the most relevant resources and explain what they discovered
Obtain new resources
  • Provide more resources upfront (e.g., curated set of useful articles or websites)
Complete long projects
  • Scaffold and sequence what might have previously been longer and/or larger assignments.
  • Replace with several smaller assessments that are not dependent on each other
  • Merge two things into one to speed a process up (e.g., student introductions and their topic of most significant interest in the course, which students can later use as a basis for a research assignment)
  • Reduce length expectations
Group projects
  • Provide time-saving aids (e.g., templates)
  • Initiate groups’ use of useful collaboration tools (e.g., Google suite)
  • Have them complete plans for how/when they will accomplish work (e.g., expectations, group contracts, peer assessments)
Receive feedback before the next assignment
  • Consider the workload and what is feasible both for your students to do and for you to grade
  • Use rubrics
  • Give initial feedback to the whole class while preparing individual feedback
  • Use completion grading for some work (e.g., low-stakes assignments)
Communicate with instructors
  • Communicate your availability with students
  • Request students to post questions to a discussion board, allowing students to help respond and see your answer (if needed)

Planning for long synchronous meetings (in person or online)

 Although your course may be compressed over a period of weeks, individual class sessions may be longer than those in a traditional semester-long course. Here are some options:

  • Do not lecture for the whole meeting: both you and your students will be exhausted
  • Develop a class plan using blocks of time. This lesson planning tool provides ideas about types of tasks you can use to:
    • Set the Agenda – Entry tickets/do nows, review/reading quizzes
    • Motivate Interest – Real world case study or video/audio/auto
    • Activate Prior Knowledge – Background knowledge or self-assessment
    • Present Ideas – Student presentations or guest speakers
    • Engage Active Learning – Think/pair/share or brainstorm
    • Facilitate (Engaging!) Discussion – Small group discussion or debate
    • Assess Growth – Minute ticket or 3-2-1 Survey
    • Summarize Takeaways – Recap and Preview or Course Logistics

Incorporate planned (announced) breaks. Regular, pre-announced breaks can be useful for pacing yourself and your students.

Use some class time for working–whether individually or in small groups. If you give students time to work on assignments in class, it is generally more effective to give them time that is not at the end of class (otherwise they may rush through or decide to work on it later).


Resources and References

Kops, William J. (2014). Teaching compressed-format courses: Teacher-based best practices. Canadian Journal of University Continuing Education, 40(1):1-18.

Swenson, C. (2003). Accelerated and traditional formats: Using learning as a criterion for quality. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 97, 83–92.


For more information or help, please email the Office for Faculty Excellence or make an appointment with a consultant. 


Last Modified: Thursday, July 6, 2023 5:18 pm


Creative Commons License Teaching Resources by Montclair State University Office for Faculty Excellence is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. “Quick Guide to Planning Compressed Courses” is a derivative of Quick Guide to Teaching Compressed Courses by Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) at Iowa State University.

Third-party content is not covered under the Creative Commons license and may be subject to additional intellectual property notices, information, or restrictions. You are solely responsible for obtaining permission to use third party content or determining whether your use is fair use and for responding to any claims that may arise.