Creating BYU's "Foundations of the Restoration" Course

Historian's Corner

Kenneth L. Alford and Anthony Sweat

Kenneth L. Alford ( is a professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU.

Anthony Sweat ( is an associate teaching professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU.

In 2015 Brigham Young University’s Board of Trustees announced a new Religious Education curriculum for students. It was the first time the core set of required religion classes had changed in several decades. Once the new requirements were phased in, all students would complete four cornerstone courses—REL C 200 (“The Eternal Family”), REL C 225 (“Foundations of the Restoration”), REL A 250 (“Jesus Christ and His Everlasting Gospel”) and REL A 275 (“Teachings and Doctrine of the Book of Mormon”).[1]

Kevin J Worthen, then BYU president, announced a BYU Online initiative that would increase student enrollment without adding additional classroom space on campus. The change would be made possible by increasing the number of available online courses so that “by 2020, each BYU student will be able to take at least fifteen hours of credit online before graduation.”[2]

In fall semester 2016, Alex Baugh, then chair of the Department of Church History and Doctrine, asked us to create a BYU Online version of the “Foundations of the Restoration” course. We began researching best practices of online education and soon met with the administrators of BYU Online: Carolyn Andrews and Dane Rigby. We asked BYU Online to create eighteen original context videos. That number was later adjusted to fifteen original videos.

The next step was to meet with BYU Online course designers and website developers: Steve Mott and later Eric Orton. BYU Online had selected Canvas as their learning management system. Canvas allowed many of our course design ideas; others could not be supported. Some ideas were made possible with the addition of custom-written software.

Shortly after the Board of Trustees announced the four new cornerstone courses in 2015, our department chair appointed a committee—consisting of Alex Baugh, Gerrit Dirkmaat, Rachel Cope, and Anthony Sweat—to work with department faculty members to establish overall course learning outcomes, suggested units of study, and unit learning objectives. We followed that approved framework in developing the BYU Online Canvas version of REL C 225. We also requested and received curriculum materials (PowerPoints, assignments, readings, and so forth) from many of our Church History and Doctrine faculty who had been teaching face-to-face “Foundations of the Restoration” sections so that the online version of the course could reflect more of a collective faculty perspective.

Creating an online course like this gave us an opportunity to incorporate many teaching best practices. One of those was consistency in each unit’s structure. Each of the fourteen content units in the course would have the same organization and look and feel. Each would have a high-quality video to provide context for the unit, a Gospel Topics essay reading, discussion board question, and an analysis assignment. Each would include a wealth of graphics, photos, pull quotes, and images to make the course content visually appealing.

A major advantage of an online course is that we can quickly and easily send students to videos, websites, original Church history documents, general conference video clips, and scripture references by including weblinks. Each unit begins with an Introduction webpage with:

  • General Introduction
  • Three to five individual Learning Objectives for that unit
  • Learning Goal questions from which questions on the midterm and final exam are drawn
  • Total Points offered in that unit
  • Average Time it takes students to complete that unit.

Points are awarded to quizzes associated with reading assignments, video viewing, unit assignments, student discussion boards, class attendance, and so on.

The largest assignment in each unit is called an analysis assignment and is designed to help students reflect on and apply aspects of the unit material they have just completed. Each unit concludes with an Optional Resources section that provides links to many additional articles, books, and videos organized according to the Learning Outcomes in that unit.

With fourteen weeks in a semester and fourteen course content units, the BYU Online Foundations course enables professors to establish a weekly repeating schedule for students to follow throughout the semester.

A major contribution is the fifteen high-quality context videos. These REL C 225 course videos turned out wonderfully. The video scripts were written and peer reviewed by Church History and Doctrine faculty members. Glenn Anderson of BYU Video originally oversaw the production and direction of most of the course context videos, with Scott Gutke completing the last few after Glenn’s retirement. Many videos include original digital animation (beautifully executed by Robin Conover and his talented team), original music, and original B-roll footage. Videos were hosted on screen by BYU student actors.

The resulting set of videos has been shared with BYU–Idaho, BYU–Hawaii, Ensign College, and the Church’s Seminaries and Institutes program (for use in institute classes). We were able to take animation stills from many of the videos which we used as graphic labels to uniquely identify each of the fourteen units. (Examples are included in this article.)

The BYU Online version of the “Foundations of the Restoration” course enables students to complete graded coursework online which turns out to be an extremely flexible and effective teaching medium. There are three different ways professors can teach this online course: (1) Blended (students meet once per unit in person in a physical classroom), (2) Synchronous (students meet on Zoom at the same time each week for live classroom sessions), and (3) Asynchronous (professors record their lessons and students watch them independently as an assigned unit video). Synchronous and asynchronous instruction enables students to complete REL C 225 from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection. (Note that regular twice-per-week in-person sections are still offered each semester or term.)

The first sections of the completed “Foundations of the Restoration” BYU Online course debuted during spring term 2018 as the first of the BYU Religious Education cornerstone courses to have a BYU Online offering. Based on student and instructor feedback from the pilot term, we made a few tweaks that summer and then taught full schedules during fall semester 2018. The first blended sections debuted during fall semester 2018. When the pandemic began, BYU Online instructors could quickly adjust to campus being closed.

Offering in-class, blended, synchronous, and asynchronous classes each semester/term provides needed flexibility for students, who are required to complete the “Foundations of the Restoration” course to graduate. The course also offers some flexibility to teachers who are assigned to teach the course. A master version of the course is copied for each new REL C 225 Online instructor who can then adjust readings, quizzes, and content to match his or her training and expertise, while keeping the same unit template structure to accomplish the unit learning objectives. This provides a flexible yet consistent experience, look, and organization for students who take the “Foundations of the Restoration” Online course.

Five years later, thousands of BYU students have successfully completed the “Foundations of the Restoration” Online course. BYU Online reported to us that many of the overall course standards, templates, and look and feel that was created for this course have become recommended templates and approaches suggested for later BYU Online courses to follow. “Foundations of the Restoration” Online has become a foundational course in more ways than one.


[1] Before the 2015 change, students were required to take Book of Mormon (REL A 121 and 122), Doctrine and Covenants (either REL C 324 or 325), and a New Testament course (either REL A 211 or 212).

[2] Kevin J Worthen, “BYU: A Unique Kind of Education” (university conference address, August 28, 2017),