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When creating a new course, many faculty understandably think first about what material they want to “cover” (what books or articles to assign, what lectures to give, etc.); however, it can be advantageous to focus first—in what some call “backward design”--on what you want your students to learn or be able to do upon completion of the course. After identifying key learning goals or competencies, you then clarify how you’ll know if your students have learned those things, and finally then plan the learning activities (including readings, class exercises, etc.) to help students develop those competencies (and generate evidence of that learning).
Below are several resources that outline the basic steps involved in this kind of approach to course design.
Designing Courses Backwards – Stanford Teaching Commons
Understanding by Design – Vanderbilt Center for Teaching
At the heart of the course design process is a set of concrete, clearly-phrased learning goals. Effective learning goals should challenge students to exercise higher order thinking skills (analyzing, synthesizing, and creating vs. naming or understanding). They should be clear, precise, and measurable. This enables students to distinguish average from excellent work, and it assists the instructor in giving actionable feedback to students. See below for resources and strategies on articulating those goals.
Writing Learning Goals – Stanford Teaching Commons
Creating and Using Effective Learning Goals - Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative, University of British Columbia