Course Design

This section will guide you through principles of course design that will aid in creating a new course or modifying an existing course.

Using Backward Design

Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe in their book Understanding by Design state, “Our lessons, units, and courses should be logically inferred from the results sought, not derived from the methods, books, and activities with which we are most comfortable. Curriculum should lay out the most effective ways of achieving specific results… in short, the best designs derive backward from the learnings sought.”

Backward design asks the instructor to consider the goals and desired outcomes of the course before creating assignments and designing the schedule of readings for the course. It is focused on student learning and understanding by guiding the instructor through intentional assessment and assignment design. Furthermore, backward design enables an open teaching environment in which students know the purpose of the work they are doing (Wiggins and McTighe 2011). Using backward design while designing an OER course will help to ensure that the writing assignments help students in achieving course goals, and that the OER materials provide students with the knowledge and tools they need to achieve those goals.

Wiggins and McTighe break down backward design into three stages of development: stage one consists of identifying desired results; stage two consists of determining acceptable evidence of meeting results successfully; and, stage three consists of planning learning experiences and instruction based on the previous two stages.

Stage 1: Identify Desired Results

Wiggins and McTighe provide a list of questions which instructors should ask themselves in this stage of design:

  • What are the course goals/outcomes as deemed by the department and/or the instructor?
  • What long-term transfer goals are targeted?
  • What meanings should students make to arrive at important understandings?
  • What essential questions will students keep considering?
  • What knowledge and skill will students acquire?
  • What established goals/standards are targeted?

For composition courses including English 110, FIQWS, and English 21001, 21002, 21003, and 21007 course goals can be found on the CCNY First Year Writing Program website.

Stage 2: Determine Acceptable Evidence

In this stage, Wiggins and McTighe suggest instructors ask themselves the following questions:

  • By what criteria will performance be assessed, in light of Stage 1 desired results?
  • What additional evidence will be collected for all Stage 1 desired results?
  • Are the assessments aligned to all Stage 1 elements?

This is the stage in which you will decide what type of assignments will best suit your needs as they align with the course goals. Some assignment types and considerations include:

  • Written assignments: low stakes vs. high stakes, creativity level
  • Verbal assignments: speeches, presentations, etc.
  • Visual assignments: posters, artworks, videos, etc.
  • Service learning and application projects

Stage 3: Plan Learning Experience and Instruction

At this point, you are ready to plan the rest of the course, including reading assignments (OER materials) and daily activities. Wiggins and McTighe suggest asking the following questions:

  • What activities, experiences, and lessons will lead to achievement of the desired results and success at the assessments?
  • How will the learning plan help students achieve transfer, and meaning and acquisition, with increasing independence?
  • How will progress be monitored?
  • How will the unit be sequenced and differentiated to optimize achievement for all learners?
  • Are the learning events in Stage 3 aligned with Stage 1 goals and Stage 2 assessments?

According to Wiggins and McTighe, “a teacher’s job is not to simply mention everything in a book or on a topic; our job is to prioritize, make interesting and useful, and ‘uncover’ the content, not merely ‘cover’ it. The textbook should serve as a resource, not the syllabus, in a focused and effective learning plan.” By following these steps of design, it will help ensure that the OER materials you included in your course are chosen with the intention of providing students the tools for successfully achieving course goals.

Wiggins, Grant, and Jay McTighe. “Backward Design.” In Understanding by Design Guide to Creating High-Quality Units, by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. ASCD, 2011.

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