This summer, the CETL will be presenting one tip per week, to provide a more in-depth discussion of evidence-based teaching practices. If there are specific topics you would like to see CETL explore, please let us know! We also welcome guest posts from faculty who have a teaching tip they would like to share with their colleagues. 

Course Design Strategies to Support Student Success 

There are many options for designing a course or lesson: active learning, problem- and team-based learning, flipped learning, and many more. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by these choices; so where do we begin? Arend and Davis (2020) remind us that in the face of so many options, “the answer is to remain purposeful and base your teaching methods on your intended learning goals.”  

When we design a course, using a backward design approach can help align our learning activities and assessments with course outcomes. Start by thinking about what the learning goals (outcomes) are for the course – what knowledge or skills should students have or be able to demonstrate by the end of the course? Then, consider assessment: How will students’ achievement of the course outcomes be measured throughout the course? And finally, what learning activities will support students’ learning and acquisition of that knowledge or those skills? When we start with the outcomes, we can design a course that supports their successful achievement by students. This video provides a quick overview of the three steps used to implement backward design, and this article provides specific examples of redesigning a course using backward design principles.  

“The backward design framework suggests that instructors should consider these overarching learning goals and how students will be assessed prior to consideration of how to teach the content. For this reason, backward design is considered a much more intentional approach to course design than traditional methods of design” (Bowen, 2017). 

Rethinking our course design doesn’t mean doing away with lecture entirely; however, Arend and Davis suggest a shift to shorter, more focused presentations or explanation sessions that are “interspersed with other ways of learning” (2020). Chunking content and engaging students in active learning in these ways supports better retention of learning, and as an added benefit, these varied types of learning experiences support the development of skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork, and communication. We can also explore teaching methods and learning activities that align with taxonomies such as Bloom’s or the Taxonomy of Significant Learning to ensure achievement of outcomes. 

Interested in exploring any of these ideas further or discussing how you might implement them in your own teaching practices? Is there a tip you’ve tried that you would like to share with colleagues? Contact CETL or schedule a consultation to continue the conversation.