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  • Step 1: Learning goals

Step 1: Review your learning goals

The first step is to review your course learning goals, or the outcomes you want your students to achieve by the end of this course, and in each piece (module) of your course. Keep your mind on "the prize": the learning that you want to happen. This mindset will then help you make decisions about your assessments and assignments and your learning activities. 

Reflecting on the core purpose and essential outcomes of class can help frame your thinking about how to adapt the other aspects of your course. This short article and video illustrate how one KU faculty member has done that.  

Identify course learning goals

Articulating course learning goals involves clearly defining what it is that you want students to be able to do or to demonstrate by the time they have completed your course.  In their book on Backward Design, Wiggins and McTighe (1998; 2005) suggest that instructors consider three levels of knowledge: 1) Enduring understanding, 2) important to know and do, and 3) worth being familiar with. Take some time to look at what the outcomes are for your degree program, and work to ensure your course outcomes align with those broader program outcomes. Reflect on the prompts below to narrow down the most important skills and understandings for students to take away from your class.

 Ask yourself:

  • What do I want students to be able to do as a result of this course?
  • Why is this important? Is the concept or skill​
    • A portal/ threshold into the discipline or deeper learning? Or do students often get stuck here (bottleneck)?​
    • Central to the discipline? A big idea in the field? A cutting edge idea being explored by KU faculty?​
    • Something that students need for later courses? (if so, be sure to align course outcomes with program level goals)?​ 
    • Likely to engage students, or be relevant for their lives or careers, or related to a grand challenge in our community or society?
  • ​ What do your students want to get out of this course? 

Identify module-level learning goals

As described here, your course will be more flexible and adaptable if you organize it into into smaller pieces or modules. Once you know your overall course goals, think about how to organize them across your course, so that each unit or module is organized around a set of learning goals.

Ask yourself: 

  • What do I want students to be able to do as a result of this  module? Why?
  • How are my module learning goals related to each other? 
    • ​Does each module address different learning goals (e.g., different themes in a course)?
    • Or do they build on each other developmentally (e.g., increasing levels of thinking/learning)?​

Make your learning goals specific and actionable

Writing effective learning goals involves identifying what you want students to do, and the level of understanding that is desired. That way, your goals will readily lead to the next step of backwards design, considering how students will demonstrate their achievement of the learning goals. Many instructors find that Blooms Taxonomy helps them identify the level of thinking they want students to achieve. This diagram aligns Bloom's levels of learning with verbs that can be used in learning objectives and that map well to particular types of assignments/assessments.  Follow this checklist for creating learning goals (adapted from www.cwsei.ubc.ca):

Ask yourself:

  • Does the learning goal identify what students will be able to do after the topic is covered?
  • Is it clear how you would test achievement of the goal?
  • Does the chosen verb have a clear meaning (not “understand”)
  • Is the verb is aligned with the level of cognitive understanding expected of students? Could you expect a higher level of understanding?
  • Is the terminology in the learning goal familiar/common? If not, is knowing the terminology a goal?
  • Is it possible to write the goal so it is relevant and useful to students?

Here is an exercise on rewriting learning goals. 

Next, Step 2: Rethinking Your Assessments and Assignments

Summary: Reviewing Your Learning Goals
  1. Identify course-level learning goals: What do I want students to be able to do as a result of this course? 
  2. Identify learning goals for each module: What I want students to be able to do at the end of this module? How does that relate to course learning goals? 
  3. Make your learning goals specific and actionable: What level of understanding do I expect? Is it clear how I would check achievement of this goal?
What are my learning goals?

Graphic about backward design