Backward Course Design

Instructional Design for Learning

These are the three core steps to any instructional design:

  1. Start with your learning objectives, potentially breaking them down into stepping stone learning goals (scaffolding).
  2. Design varied and authentic formative and summative assessments to measure mastery of those learning goals/objectives.
  3. Create and curate the instructional content that students need in order to complete those assessments.

For a much more detailed look at the instructional design process, check out Instructional Design Frameworks.

Let’s look at those in more detail . . .

Start with Learning Objectives

Start with Learning Objectives

This is the instructional design stage that is least altered by modality (e.g. online, face-to-face, hybrid). The list of objectives from the course syllabus can often be a bit broad, so it is important to break those down a bit into smaller learning goals. When breaking down those goals, avoid being overly specific as to how the student will be demonstrating their learning; CAST expresses this as “separating the means from the ends” (citation). Here are a couple of examples:

  • Learning Objective: Demonstrate the ability to use multimedia in course materials that are accessible. (EDME 552)
    • Learning Goal: Identify factors in the accessibility of digital content.
    • Learning Goal: Apply WCAG 2.0 guidelines in the creation of online content.
    • Learning Goal: Create documents that meet accessibility guidelines.
    • Learning Goal: Create a video that meets accessibility guidelines.
  • Learning Objective: Use web design best practices and graphic design principles to design and publish a responsible, effective, and accessible blog. (DIGL 101)
    • Learning Goal: Identify the purpose and audience of your blog.
    • Learning Goal: Reflect on what you learned throughout the semester about the privacy, accessibility, copyright, and graphic design principles.
    • Learning Goal: Publish a blog with at least three posts on a topic of your choice.

Pro Tip: If you’re struggling a bit with drafting those specific learning goals, it might be helpful to reference the action verbs in Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Design Varied and Authentic Formative and Summative Assessments

Design Varied and Authentic Formative and Summative Assessments

Firstly, consider what types of assessments work best for your delivery format. Will your assessment be conducted synchronously or asynchronously? Will it be online/digital or on paper/in class? If you’re considering assessments that are completed online, check out Create Online Activities.

Regardless of the delivery format, it’s important to include a mix of formative and summative assessments. These tie to those learning goals/objectives — the formative assessments measure progress on those stepping stone learning goals while the summative assessments measure mastery of the broader learning objective. Here’s what those formative and summative assessments might look like from our earlier example:

  • Learning Objective: Use web design best practices and graphic design principles to design and publish a responsible, effective, and accessible blog. (DIGL 101)
    Summative Assessment: Turning in the completed blog.

    • Learning Goal: Identify the purpose and audience of your blog.
      Formative Assessment: Online discussion forum where students share their drafted purpose/audience and get peer feedback.
    • Learning Goal: Reflect on what you learned throughout the semester about the privacy, accessibility, copyright, and graphic design principles.
      Formative Assessment:
      Project Journal entries with questions relevant to those reflection topics, feedback provided via rubric criteria.
    • Learning Goal: Publish a blog with at least three posts on a topic of your choice.
      Assessment: Since this is the last step to the learning objective, it has the same summative assessment.

Another important factor in designing assessments is to make them varied. Students are incredibly diverse in their skills, strengths, experiences, and interests, so your assessments should be as varied as possible (a principle of Universal Design for Learning [UDL]). This means offering choices within a particular assignment (when feasible) AND varying the types of assignments throughout the course. Here are a few examples:

Objective/Goal Options for Variability
Plan strategies to promote/maintain academic integrity in the online classroom (EDME 552) Case Study Discussion Forum:

  • Students choose which of the two case studies to respond to
  • Posts can be text, audio, or video

Reflection/Game Plan:

  • Topic is set (reflection questions for learning objectives)
  • Reflections can be written/essay, recorded video, or visual/infographic

Throughout the course, other assignment types are HTML pages, screencast recordings, a paper, etc.

Use best practices for data visualization and research skills to create and publish an infographic that is responsible, effective, and accessible. (DIGL 101) Published Infographic:

  • Medium/format is set (infographic)
  • Students have choice on topic/argument.

Throughout the course, other assignment types are in-class presentations, group video project, individual podcast project, etc.

For help on creating assessments in Canvas, please see the “Create Activities” section of our Canvas: Faculty Introduction page of the ITS blog.

Create and Curate Instructional Content

Create and Curate Instructional Content

This final course design stage involves creating and curating the instructional materials that give students the information they need to complete the assessments successfully. Instructor-created content can be synchronous lecture (in-person or in Zoom), video recordings, PowerPoints, etc. (check out the best practices on Create Digital Content). Course content also often includes external sources like guest speakers (in-person or in Zoom), web articles, scholarly sources, TEDtalks, etc., where content curation skills are important.

Ultimately, you need to balance the amount of instructor-created and external materials to maintain teacher presence without reinventing the wheel and/or burning out.¬†A good first step is to explore what content already covers your material well (textbook, YouTube, etc.), then focus your energy on creating original content for the parts of your material that you can’t find good content for.

Lastly, when creating and curating instructional content, it’s important to consider the diversity of your students. Mix up the methods/media that you use, like in-person lecture, recorded video, podcast, infographic, text, etc. This will support students by giving them a variety of ways to connect with your content (more UDL!).

Here’s how that mix of content might look in an online course (EDME 552:

  • Content for lesson on Netiquette & eProfessionalism
    • Instructor-created | Video: Introductory video with discussion of Twitter debate
    • External | Chapter from free ebook: “Let’s Talk: Effectively Communicating with Your Online Students”
    • External | Web articles: Three articles that discuss how to teach netiquette
    • External | Web pages: Four sample “Tip Sheets” for students about netiquette
    • External | Videos: Four sample YouTube videos for students about netiquette
    • Note: All external sources (except for the samples) are accompanied by instructor-created guiding questions

Here’s how that mix of content might look in a F2F course (DIGL 101)

  • Content for data infographics:
    • External | Video: “Visualize This: How to Tell a Story with Data”
    • External | Video: “Making Infographics”
    • External | Infographics: Collection of four sample infographic projects
    • Instructor-Led | Class Discussion: Presenting good and bad examples of infographics and noting best practices via class discussion and instructor direction
    • External | Video: “Fundamentals of Graphic Design”
    • External | Video: “7 Common Types of Infographics
    • Instructor-Created | Text: Information in Canvas on purpose and audience
    • Instructor-Created | Video: “What should be my infographic topic?”

For help on adding content items to your Canvas modules, please see the “Create Content” section of our Canvas: Faculty Introduction page of the ITS blog.