Originally published January 6th, 2015/Updated August 29th, 2016
Designing Your Course
The semester will begin soon, and we’re sure you’re busy prepping your course. This design work before the beginning of the semester is an essential part of overall student learning and provides a framework you can respond to as you gather assessment evidence across the semester. As you are designing this week, we want to provide some guidance by sharing “backward design” principles from our Preparing Future Faculty for the Assessment of Student Learning (PFF-ASL) Institute. We’ve found these principles extremely helpful for making sure student learning is always in focus and all elements of our courses are aligned toward our learning outcomes.
Designing Your Course “Backward”
Initially introduced by Wiggins and McTighe (1998), “backward design” for curriculum involves building your course from end-of-course learning outcomes, through evidence you’ll gather out of assessments, and finally to the instructional activities students will engage in to help them learn towards readiness for assessments and meeting learning outcomes. Below, Dr. Cori Fata-Hartley further outlines essential steps of backward design:
Using Dr. Fata-Hartley’s outlining of backward design principles as our guide, here are four questions to help you this week as you’re designing your course:
Four Questions for Designing Your Course “Backward”
1) What Do You Hope Students Know and Are Able to Do?: This question can help anchor your creation of learning outcomes. We’ve found “Students Will Be Able To” (SWBAT) as a helpful lead-in statement to direct the writing of our learning outcomes. And remember, your learning outcomes should be observable (and thus assessable), which leads to question # two.
2) What Assessment Evidence Will You Gather?: Answering this question allows you to think about how you’ll know if students have met course learning outcomes. Assessments provide the necessary evidence of learning out of which you can make decisions about where you and students are along the way to meeting learning outcomes.
3) What Learning Experiences Will You Provide for Students?: The learning experiences you plan across your course builds towards the assessments students will do towards learning outcomes. What will students and you engage in at each step along the way? How do these steps lead towards assessments and learning outcomes?
4) Is Your Course Design Aligned?: Tracing across your answers to the previous three questions, you can begin to see whether your course design is aligned. This can allow you to make the necessary revisions towards best alignment and student learning, and keep elements that are already working. This alignment work is a constant process across–and even after–your course as students respond to your design.
We’d Like to Know: What are some of the ways you’ve linked learning outcomes, assessments, and learning experiences? How do you respond when you see that some elements of your design aren’t aligned?
Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (1998). Understanding by Design. Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.
Erik Skogsberg is a PhD Candidate in Curriculum, Instruction, and Teacher Education (CITE) at MSU. His current research focuses on pre-service teacher (PST) development toward the inclusion of youth literacies, digital literacies, and culturally sustaining, dialogic pedagogies in the secondary English classroom. He has facilitated courses and professional development focused on teaching methods, disciplinary and youth literacies, digital literacies and educational technology, and teacher mentoring. In his current role as the Teacher Learning Designer in MSU’s HUB for Innovation in Learning and Technology and the MSU Graduate School, he supports graduate teaching assistant professional development across campus. Follow him on Twitter: @erikskogs.