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Course Development

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FaCIT recommends using backward planning to develop new college courses. The basic premise of backwards planning is to identify the desired knowledge and skills students should gain by the end of the course. 

Once the desired learning outcomes have been clearly identified, the instructor then works backward to determine what performance measures will best assess the extent to which students have gained the necessary knowledge and skills.

The final step is then to develop a series of learning experiences, activities, and assignments that will enable students to acquire the knowledge and skills the course is intended to teach. 

Step 1. Identify Situational Factors

Identify the factors associated with the course that need to be taken into consideration throughout the planning process. Factors that may affect the design of learning activities include class size, format (in-person vs. online), sequence in curriculum, etc.

Careful consideration of situational factors in the first stages of planning will maximize learning and engagement as well as save time and energy by accounting for challenges and limitations up front rather than scrambling to accommodate them later.

Step 2. Establish Learning Outcomes

In order to maximize the probability that students will gain the necessary knowledge and skills by the conclusion of the course, at the outset instructors should identify exactly what they are there to teach and what their students are there to learn.

Identify five to eight overarching, skills or knowledge sets students should be competent discussing, analyzing, performing, or acting on as a result of their learning in the course. All subsequent course decisions will be made to achieve these essential targets, learning outcomes, or course objectives.

Step 3.  Develop Assessments

Once the course outcomes have been clearly identified, the next step is to determine which assessments will provide the most valid and accurate measure of students’ mastery of the course learning outcomes. Assessments vary from straightforward multiple choice exams or essays to more complex performance-based assessments.

Although many textbook publishers provide standardized assessments that align with the course text and resources, instructor care and scrutiny should always be used in the selection of questions to ensure they reflect the material covered in the class and fairly assess the targeted competencies of the course.

In addition to summative assessments, assessments  that are used for evaluative purposes to determine academic achievement, such as midterm and final exams, instructors should plan a number of formative assessments throughout the course. Formative assessments are assessments that provide feedback to adjust learning and instruction and allow both students and instructors to continually assess where students are in their learning..

By analyzing formative assessment data, students are able to evaluate their learning progress and the instructor is able to gauge the effectiveness of past instruction and feedback. Students learn from their past efforts and instructors can identify topics to re-teach and new strategies to employ. The continual use of formative assessments throughout the course ensures that instructional decisions are based on data and students are able to master the learning objectives by the end of the course.

Step 4.  Plan Learning Experiences

With the assessments in mind that will be used to evaluate student mastery, begin identifying and planning the learning experiences that will enable them to be prepared to excel on the course assessments. Determine how class time will be allocated, the nature of assignments and activities students will complete both in and out of class, and how research has shown to best support learning in the content area. By aligning the learning outcomes, assessments, and learning activities, students will be much more likely to succeed in developing the targeted knowledge and skills by the end of the course. 

Step 5. Locate Resources

Identify the types of resources that will best expose students to the material and enable them to develop the complex understandings and skills relating to course content. Plan resources to support students at all stages of the course.

Early resources may need to introduce new concepts, relate to students’ lives and career goals, pique their interest, and activate their motivation and determination to learn. Later resources may need to allow students to apply understanding while honing critical thinking and problem solving skills in a variety of real-world contexts

A wide variety of resources should be incorporated into the course as necessary to meet the learning objectives. Resources to consider include textbooks, publisher resources, journal articles, primary documents, websites, videos, newspaper articles, eLearning tutorials, social media resources, interviews, Open Educational Resources, etc. 

Step 6. Write the Course Syllabus

Once the course objectives, assessments, and learning experiences are identified, the majority of the course is in place. The final task is to write the course syllabus. The syllabus should detail the specific sequence and weight of activities, assignments, and assessments students will be required to complete throughout the course. Additionally, the syllabus should clearly outline all instructor policies, expectations, and consequences. Ensure policies promote equal access, retention, and ultimate academic success.