This is a brief overview of "Backwards Design," also referred to as "Integrated Course Design." In this approach, you begin with writing your course outcomes, and then plan your activities and assessment to align with your outcomes. For a much more detailed walkthrough, Fink's Integrated Course Design workbook is linked in the resources at the end of this page. 

A note about terminology: Outcomes, assessments and learning activities go by many names (e.g. goals, objectives, evaluations), and the meanings behind those names vary slightly and can be important. For the purpose of this introduction, however, we have chosen one term for each section and defined it. 

written by:

Writing Course Outcomes

Course outcomes describe what students should be able to do after successfully completing the course. They provide structure and focus for course design.

Outcomes usually address a range of levels of learning discipline-related content from basic understanding to higher level critical thinking skills. They may also address acquisition of general skills (e.g. empathy, team work, metacognition, learning process) in addition to discipline-related content. Indeed, this is a way to make the invisible curriculum more visible for your students. Outcomes may also come from your program, or General Education.

Four to seven of the big picture course outcomes are usually listed in a syllabus. They are for your students and so try to write them to be accessible, interesting, and attainable, with as little jargon as possible.  More focused outcomes, those for a week or for a lesson, can also be included in an assignment or online folder. You may want to write those outcomes to be more directly assessable.

Learning Activities

Your pedagogy, how you teach, interconnects with your content, class size, classroom, your modality (e.g. face-to-face, hybrid, online), and your own experiences. Teasing out the practices that work best for your students is never ending, and is worth taking time to reflect on and experiment with each semester, especially as modalities, expectations, and student needs change. Below is an illustration of a few pedagogies and strategies that you may be using or may wish to explore by talking with faculty who do use them.

Mostly instructor focusedSomewhere in betweenMostly student focused
LectureCase StudiesOpen inquiry
Large group discussion with teacher as leadGuided InquiryTravel abroad
Cookbook-type labsReflection and other writing assignments in classIndependent research
DemonstrationsSmall group discussionInternships
FishbowlsService learning
Inverted classes

Assessing your students

Assessment encompasses a wide range of tools for determining student progress, some graded and some ungraded. 

PurposeImprovement: to provide a starting point Improvement: feedback to instructor & students on progress toward outcomeJudgment: to derive a grade
- Requires less time from instructor/students 
- Can be completed and looked at during class 
- Low stakes
- High stakes
- Significant effort 
ExamplesA reading quiz prior to an inverted class, a diagnostic test or writing sample. Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) such as muddiest points, clicker questions, and quick writes.  See resources for more suggested CATs for all types of modalities. An exam, final paper, or presentation

Closing the loop

Your outcomes, activities, and assessment form a spiral. Think of it as a circular staircase in which new content is introduced and then applied, ultimately leading to the next level of new content. As you and your students ascend the spiral, it is important to help students grow in how they learn as well as what they learn. Many faculty work toward independent projects and presentations by the end of the semester to encourage independent learning or some other culminating project. In any case, considering, and reconsidering, pedagogy and its effectiveness in guiding your students to meet their outcomes, is an important hallmark of a reflective practitioner in teaching and one that will encourage your students continued growth, as well as your own.

References and Further Reading

Contact Information

Center for Teaching and Learning

Meriwether Lewis Hall 320

500 8th Avenue

Lewiston, Idaho 83501