Course-Level Design

There are three levels of curriculum development.  The first level is program, next is the course level and then the unit and/or lesson level.  No matter where you start developing your curriculum a great approach is to use the backward design.  Backwards design is about three things:

  • Identifying the results,
  • Determining acceptable evidence and
  • Planning the learning experiences. 

1. Identify Results

Establish course learning outcomes or goals.   Jot down the following:

  • What are the big ideas or core competencies students should be able to understand behind your course? 
  • What should students be able to do as a result of this course?  What concepts, frameworks, and basic principles should students understand as a result of the course? 
  • What does your course need to cover in order to prepare students for other courses? 

Write down each learning goal/objective based on what the Learner needs to Learn -Understand and DO (not what you are going to teach).   

 See Writing Effective Learning Objectives

The following are examples of learning objectives:

Good Example:  Students will be able to:

Bad Example:  I will lecture on Genetic diversity

For more examples see Examples of Effective Learning Objectives.

2. Determine Acceptable Evidence

Establish how you will assess student learning and achievement. 

  • For each goal/objective what information will you gather to determine how well each student achieved the outcomes?
  • What types of assessments will you use based on what fits for each goal/objective?  Is it a multiple choice test, essays, journal entries, research proposal, poster, answers to a applied learning activity, performance in the field, presentation, etc. 
  • What combination of formative assessments will you use to assist student learning throughout the course? 

3. Plan the Experience

  • Establish the specific learning activities for each unit or class.  What will you have students do that directly connects to each goal/objective? 
  • Choose learner-centered strategies. For some examples see Learner Centered Teaching Techniques

4. Determine the sequence of the lessons/activities and field experiences over a semester. 

5. Manage the Process

  • What support do you have for the course?  Support are resources needed to effectively reach your course goals/objectives. What instructional practices will need to be changed based on the level of support you have?
    • Do you have graduate student assistance, secretarial support, other professors?
    • What funds do you have for field experiences, lab equipment, reagents, expendibles?
    • What is your internet access like?
  • Review your grading practices. What are the policies of your University and Department?  How can your grading practicies help improve student learning?  
  • Think about contingency plans- what happens if:  
  • Evaluate course and instructor- during and after the course.