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Designing Backward

May 23, 2022

Course Objectives and Backward Design

Backward Design is an intentional means of constructing your course; you identify the ultimate objectives and prioritize them throughout the course design process. As you build new courses and make minor or significant changes to old ones, consider using Backward Design to help get the wheels turning and ensure your course is as effective for your learners as possible. 

What is Backward Design?

In its simplest form, it is designing a course with the ends in mind. It is a practice of identifying the end goals for learners and building the course backward from those end goals. This process ensures that each component of the course is intentionally pieced together. Each activity, text, assessment, technology tool, etc., will all support learners in hitting the learning goal targets.

This runs counter to how we tend to think about constructing a course of study or any kind of progression. Compare how you might typically plan a course: the sequence tends to follow a pattern of “beginning” to “end.” For example, you have learners first watch the lecture, next read the textbook, then take a quiz, then study and take the test. Repeat for 15 weeks. This pattern prioritizes content first, which intuitively makes sense, but can unintentionally leave out the questions of what the content is for or what the learner is supposed to do with that content.

Backward Design asks you to consider the following questions and goals before designing your course:

  • What will learners be able to do with the knowledge and/or skills they will acquire from your course?
  • Considering the course content, how do you imagine learners could apply it to their other studies, future careers, and life?
  • What must a learner do or produce to demonstrate they have successfully mastered a piece of learning content before they can be ready to master the next piece?

Backwards Design Diagram with text: 1. Identify Learning Outcomes- What do I want my learners to be able to do or know after completing the course? 2. Identify Assessments- What evidence of learning do you want to see and how will you measure it? 3. Identify Activities- Which learning activities will lead to your desired results?

Why use Backward Design?

The most significant benefit of using Backward Design is that you ensure that every component of your course has a pedagogical purpose that helps your learners master the material. Additionally, it encourages intentionality in course design which will help you to weed out the unnecessary components that may actually get in the way of learning. It requires you to reflect on and clearly identify the purpose for or reason why something is included in a course, and when you can do that, you can share that purpose with your learners.

Course Objectives

Course objectives should be written to be measurable, specific, and from the learner’s perspective. Course objectives are what you want learners to be able to do by the end of the course. These are objectives you can quickly identify by using Backward Design. Once you begin constructing the course components, such as assessments or instructional content, make sure each piece directly supports the achievement of these objectives.

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Contact James Butler or David Bassett with any questions about this session.

  • Quick Hits: Zoom Features – Zoom has proven to be a great tool for remote learning, but many of Zoom’s features go unnoticed. Zoom meetings have polling capabilities, breakout rooms, chatting, etc. Join us as we discuss Zoom features that you may want to incorporate into your online instruction. We will demonstrate these features and how to implement them in your Zoom settings. Facilitated by Clemson Online’s Learning Technology Specialist, Axel Ruiz.

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