This level focuses on (1) creating unit objectives/outcomes that are measurable, and (2) aligning the unit objectives, assessments, and learning activities to build a coherent course. Alignment is essential to course design, regardless of its delivery formats (face-to-face, online, hybrid, virtual). Here are suggestions to design each unit at this level using the Backward Design Model.

Create course goals and learning objectives

  • Write out the big ideas for your course, and your course goals (or outcomes). Your department may have outcomes that they want you to use in conjunction with your course goals.
  • Use the course goals to create unit objectives to indicate specific outcomes students should achieve at the end of each unit.
    • Write the objectives in measurable terms (see our ID Series workshop: Creating Measurable Learning Objectives) to assist in your design of unit assessments, content, and activities. 
    • Use the unit objectives to drive the design. Stay focused on what the students should know or do and find the best methods and tools to accomplish it. Don’t let the course content (textbook), learning activities, or tools decide what you teach. Be the expert, decide what students should learn, and find resources that support those objectives.

Identify assessment evidence

  • Identify assessments that show that students met each unit objective.
    • Ensure that your assessment includes the specific tasks, performances, or products that show they have met the objective. 
  • Choose proper assessment formats (projects, presentations, discussions, peer review, multiple-choice, true/false, essay, matching) to collect evidence of achievement. 
    Design tip:
    • To accurately assess higher learning outcomes for analysis, application, or evaluation you may have to use projects, presentations, or discussions rather than standard selected response type of assessments (multiple-choice, true/false).
    • How many summative assessments should be used to assess each outcome? Assess until you are convinced that students achieved the targeted learning in each outcome.
  • Ensure that the action called for in the objective is what students will do during the assessment. Maintain alignment between the objectives and the assessments (see more on Bloom’s Taxonomy).
  • For excellent training on assessment, watch Dr. Louise Moulding’s video: Designing Effective Assessments.
  • For help creating effective and valid multiple-choice questions, watch Dr. Louise Moulding’s video: Creating Effective Multiple-Choice Items.

Assessment Tools:

  • Canvas Quizzes for auto-graded, low-stakes assessments of lower-level learning, and formative and summative assessments.
  • Canvas Assignments for class projects, presentations, etc.
  • Canvas Discussions for class discussions and debates
    • You can also use the Discussions tool in Canvas as a type of electronic bulletin board where students can see each other’s work but are not required to respond to each other.

Design learning experiences

  • Begin mapping out the learning experiences for the unit to prepare students for each assessment. 
  • Select relevant content (lectures, textbooks, videos, films, web resources, etc.) to support the assessments.
  • Create (graded and/or ungraded) learning activities to help students practice, discuss, and apply learning. 
  • Provide a unit overview that includes the learning objectives to help students understand what each unit is about, where it is headed, and how it ties to the overall course goals. 
  • Provide rationale for the unit assignments, content, and activities and indicate how they address the unit objectives. 
    Design tip: Consider not using controlling language, such as “should, have to, must,” when communicating rationale with students (Ryan & Deci, 2009). Explain why students should learn the materials, describe the benefits of an activity, and help them understand why this course is important in relation to their careers.
  • Help activate relevant prior knowledge and experience before diving into the unit content.
  • Provide necessary direct instruction via demonstrations or presentations.
  • Link previous learning to the new learning collaboratively and individually.
  • Help students reflect on what they have just learned.  
  • Provide students with constructive and positive feedback.
    Design tip: To place less emphasis on grading as a form of feedback, consider using a rubric that has no points attached that has the various criteria outlined and feedback for each level built in.
  • Provide and fade out instructor support as students develop knowledge and skills using scaffolding. 

Tools for learning experiences

Technical Quality

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Merrill, D. M. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development, 50(3), pp. 43-59.

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (expanded 2nd ed.). Pearson Education.

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2011). Understanding by design: Guide to creating high-quality units. ASCD.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2009). Promoting self-determined school engagement: Motivation, learning, and well-being. In K. R. Wentzen & A Wigfield, Handbook of Motivation at School (pp. 171-195). Routledge.