Backwards Design

Backwards design is a popular approach to course design that entails starting with the desired results of a course and working “backwards” rather than starting with the design of specific activities and experiences. Backwards design is popular for ensuring the alignment of course activities with the learning objectives of the course.

The backwards design model prescribes three stages to developing a course:
1) Identify the Desired Results. Ideally the desired results are your learning objectives; what will students be able to do upon completion of the course.
2) Determine Acceptable Evidence. Working from the learning objectives, establish how you will identify or measure whether students have reaching the intended objectives.
3) Plan learning Experiences and Instruction. Establish the activities, scenarios, and materials students will work with to reach the desired results established in stage 1.

Backwards design is an important model for enforcing good practice in course design because it breaks us away from the “coverage model” in which a course is perceived as simply a set of information that must be transmitted to students. The coverage model is problematic because it allows the material or texts to drive the design of the course rather than placing the selection and organization of materials around the learning goals we hope to achieve with the course. The result is a course that might cover the requisite material but fails to achieve the significant goals necessary for the students further their understanding of the topic, progress in the program, and eventually be prepared for their professional careers.

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