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Overview: Using Backward design

The best way to start the course redesign process is to reflect on the core purpose of your course, and use that to guide all of your other decisions.  Backward Design will help you work through this process. Backwards Design helps you structure your course in meaningful ways by starting with the concepts you want students to master and then working backward. That approach guides you toward resources and methods that lead toward the learning goals you want students to achieve.

Backward Design Steps

Step 1. Identify desired results (learning goals): What do I want students to be able to do at the end of this course? 

Step 2. Determine acceptable evidence: How will I know if students have achieved learning goals? 

Step 3. Plan learning experiences and instruction: What activities will equip students with the needed knowledge and skills?

Well-designed courses have strong alignment between these three steps.

The podcast to the right of this page, produced by Doug Ward and Meagan Patterson from the Center for Teaching Excellence, explains backward design in greater detail and will help you think about how you can apply it to your own course.The graphic on this page also explains important concepts in backward design. The CTE website provides also provides resources to help you think through course design.

Graphic about backward design

The Alignment Triangle

Strong alignment between learning goals, assessments, and instructional activities is key to a well-designed course. 

  • Alignment between learning objectives and assessments informs your teaching (and students’ learning)
  • Alignment between instructional activities and assessments affects their perceived value (and therefore student motivation)
  • Assessment is the dominant influence on students’ distribution of time