Initial Publication Date: September 24, 2020

(Re)Design your Course/Curriculum

Design courses and activities with the end goal in mind - what you want students to know and be able to do after the course. Consider how to engage students in activities that contribute to those overarching goals which is an important way to support the academic success of all students. The following practices provide you with ideas and strategies to not only develop new but also strengthen existing programs and courses.

Design your Courses "Backwards"

The process of backwards course design begins by identifying what the students should know and be able to do at the end of the course, then developing the assessments that will show whether they successfully achieve those goals. With those pieces in place, the teaching activities are constructed in such a way as to give the students the opportunity to learn the content and practice the skills they need to master. This design process is akin to the process of science itself (develop a hypothesis, determine what data are necessary to test the hypothesis, design experiments to gather that data) and is a good way to ensure that student learning aligns with the intent of the course.

In some cases, course outcomes may be determined by someone other than the instructor of a course. Regardless of whether the instructor must adopt only these outcomes, has complete freedom to determine their course outcomes, or can mix of the two, you will help students to be successful by being clear about what the outcomes are and how you will assess students on the mastery of those outcomes.  A useful tactic can be to think about the comprehensive final exam or culminating project you will use to assess students at the end of the course and then figure out the skills the they will need in order to be successful and then match the course content to those needs and skills.

The On the Cutting Edge professional development program has a Course Design Tutorial written by Barbara Tewksbury that can help faculty who are unfamiliar with backwards design develop and revise their courses.

North Carolina
The North Carolina team led an effort among their colleagues to develop a detailed list of student learning objectives for Wake Technical College's introductory geology course.  They also dedicated one of their regional workshops to introducing regional colleagues to the process of Backward Design.
The Texas team helped their colleagues use Backward Design to improve student success and broaden participation.

Infuse Active Learning Strategies into Your Teaching

Active (or engaged) learning strategies include those teaching methods which engage the student more with the material they have either learned in class or in the assignments up to that point in time.  They have also been shown these strategies to be more effective that traditional lecture.  The "active" in active learning signifies teaching methods that require students to be active participants in their own learning. For example, using a Gallery Walk not only gets the students out of their seats and moving but also provides them an opportunity to contemplate a question collaboratively with their "team" and engage in discussion with the whole class. The Pedagogy in Action website maintains a large collection of modules on how to use different active learning techniques in the college classroom. Each module also has a collection of teaching activities drawn from various disciplines using the technique to achieve curricular goals. As a part of the On the Cutting Edge program, Rachel Beane (Bowdoin College) developed a set of posters (Acrobat (PDF) 4.9MB Mar24 16) detailing several different active learning strategies which can be a helpful tool in understanding what a method involves and how you might go about implementing it. Dr. Bean elaborated on their use in an article she wrote for In the Trenches.

The Texas team led a workshop on active learning using Rachel Beane's set of posters (Acrobat (PDF) 4.9MB Mar24 16) detailing several different active learning strategies.
North Carolina
Adrienne Leinbach has implemented active learning strategies in both seated and online classes, using them to make assignments more relevant for students.
David Voorhees has experimented with a number of active learning strategies in his classes including flipping his classroom.

Additional Reading on Active Learning