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3 Questions to Ask Yourself When Designing Your Course

When you work in education, summer can be a time for reflection and revision. Faculty often use this time to rework their courses and syllabi. Traditionally when one revises a course they:

  1. Find texts and supporting materials
  2. Divide readings and homework throughout the quarter
  3. Determine a method for assessing students’ performance

And, boom! Your course is planned! While this remains the most common way to structure a course, a different approach commonly called Backwards Course Design has been steadily gaining in popularity throughout recent years.

This approach to course design encourages instructors to answer the following 3 questions prior to writing their syllabus. For a more thorough breakdown I recommend you read Idea-Based Learning: A Course Design Process to Promote Conceptual Understanding by Edmund Hansen or Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. Both are available through the TLA library.

What do your students absolutely need to know at the end of your course?



In other words, what are your learning outcomes? Learning outcomes are statements that describe what students will be able to do after the lesson. In the Backwards Course Design model, everything in your course should be mapped back to your course, program, and subsequently DePaul’s learning outcomes. You can learn more about how to write and map your learning outcomes on the TLA website.

How will you know if they met your learning outcomes?


How will students demonstrate their knowledge or skill? Sometimes knowledge can be quickly assessed in the moment – like when you ask a question during class and everyone immediately looks down at their desk. However, most of the time, you will need a more formal assessment to demonstrate learning. There is a lot to consider when you are preparing assessments. Will students need to write a full essay or paper to demonstrate they understand a reading or will a discussion post on D2L suffice?  Learn more about assessing student learning on the DePaul Teaching Commons.

How will you set your students up for success?



Practice makes perfect! What opportunities will you give your students to practice applying the material before the big test or final paper? Low-stakes assignments are great way to help students identify their progress (or lack thereof) and help you gauge how well the class is progressing towards your learning outcomes. Need some inspiration for assignment design? This chart posted on the DePaul Teaching Commons helps outline how assignments can be structured to meet specific learning goals.

Interested in learning more? Register for the 2016 Fall Forum – Idea-Based Learning: What’s the Big Idea? Edmund Hansen, Edmund Hansen, author of Idea-Based Learning: A Course Design Process to Promote Conceptual Understanding will give the keynote address.


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One Response to 3 Questions to Ask Yourself When Designing Your Course

  1. Ruben August 23, 2016 at 11:35 am #

    Thanks Erin for such an inspiring blog!

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