Backward Design

  • Introduced by Wiggins and McTighe in Understanding by Design (2005)
  • Instructors begin with learning goals and outcomes rather than activities
  • Effective in online and blended courses because students need more structure

Key Questions in Backward Design

  • What do you want your students to do (not just know)?
  • What evidence will you accept that they have accomplished that?
  • What learning activities will produce this evidence or documentation?

Why Use Backward Design

  • Practice-oriented instead of abstract theory
  • Learning objectives linked to verifiable outcomes
  • Fosters an online peer learning community

What is in a Learning Module

  • A chunk of content
  • A learning activity
  • A mode of assessing student work

English 102 Example

  • Blended course capped at 24 students
  • Focused on research writing
  • Consists of seven two-week modules
  • Requires a final portfolio of two revised essays: a ten-page research essay and a reflective letter
  • Students divided into two groups that generally meet on alternating days


Module 2 Learning Objectives

By the end of this module, students should be able to:
●Describe the qualities of four different academic research models
●Develop an effective research proposal for a ten-page academic research paper
Module 2 Content
Davis and Shadle’s “’Building a Mystery’: Writing and the Academic Act of Seeking”
Lecture outlining strategies for developing an effective research question
Module 2 Activities
Quiz over readings to demonstrate mastery of terms and ideas
In-class and online discussions to examine research models and proposal-writing strategies
Reflective journal entry focusing on “topics”
Formal essay that proposes and justifies a research question
Module 2 Assessment
Automated, quantitative feedback on quizzes
Holistic, overall feedback  and quantifiable rubric assessment on discussions
Individual, end-comment feedback on reflective journal entries
Individual, end-comment feedback on research proposal

Why Use Discussion Forums?
  • Requires participation and accountability in a frequent, low-stakes environment
  • Fosters higher-order thinking
  • Produces a recorded conversation
  • Utilizes low-risk, easy-to-use technology
  • Offers convenience for students

Types of Discussion

  • Introductory forums
  • Support or utility forums
  • Discursive forums
  • Student-led forums
  • Peer feedback forums
  • Group project forums

Discussion Boards Fail When:

  • Students see little value in the forums
  • Instructors post too much or too little
  • Instructors expect online discussions to replicate f2f discussions
  • Instructors fail to be clear about expectations
  • Prompts are ineffective

Writing Good Prompts

  • Be clear about the purpose of the forum
  • Develop open-ended questions that require reflection and higher-order analysis
  • Require response posts, when appropriate
  • Set word limits for posts
  • State method of assessment

Discussion Forum Logistics

  • Arrange students into groups of 10-15
  • Provide clear post and reply deadlines
  • Give students at least two days to read and respond to initial posts
  • Avoid multiple discussion forums in a week
  • Utilize LMS functionality to limit availability but not visibility

Helping Your Students

  • Provide technical guidelines for learning how to post
  • Provide instructions on formality expectations
  • Use feedback effectively to reinforce stated expectations
  • Be consistent about when posts are due
  • Vary forum activities
  • Vary group formation
  • Help students manage their time
  • Cultivate instructor presence

Define Your Role

  • Shape the conversation and guide student responses (esp. early in the semester)
  • Be clear about what students can expect from you
  • Record who you’ve responded to so that you can respond to everyone
  • Consider workload issues when defining your role

Grading Forums

  • Use rubrics
  • Make discussion forums low-stakes
  • Grade initial and response posts (separately or holistically)
  • Provide individual feedback in different forms
  • Provide summary-level feedback