Assessment Begins with Learning Goals

3 parts of backward design: Identify desired results, determine acceptable evidence, and organize instruction.

Course creation begins by deciding what students will know and be able to do by the end of the course. Once learning goals and objectives are established, it becomes much easier to choose and create activities to help students learn and assessments to provide evidence of progress. Wiggins and McTighe (2005) developed a course design framework called "Backward Design." While the concept sounds obvious, when it comes to student learning and course design things get complicated as big concepts are broken into smaller ones and decisions must be made with regard to sequencing, learning activities, and assessments. Using the backward design process also aids program design and assessment. This can be particularly important for courses that are part of accredited programs.

Course goals are often stated in a "big-picture" way, represent where students should end up, and employ the word "understand". Unfortunately, "understand" does not suggest what type of assessment might be most appropriate. In fact, it often is used when the goal encompasses several different types of knowledge and skills. For example, "understand design thinking," could mean students should be able to describe an ideation process in addition to using design thinking to create a new product. Note that "describe" and "using" both imply ways students might demonstrate their understanding of design thinking. Consequently, learning objectives, which are usually applied to units or topics within a course, are a great place to look for clues as to what type of assessment would be a valid and reliable measure of student learning.

A well-written learning objective has three key components: performance, conditions, and criteria. When students read the learning objective they understand what they will need to do, the conditions under which they will do it, and the criteria by which their performance will be judged.

"Students will be able to use design thinking to address problems after working with dining services to generate a solution for food waste."

This example learning objective could also be a course goal and is authentic in that the assessment resembles or simulates the "real world," for which students are being prepared. Not all course learning can be assessed in hands-on authentic ways, but with a little creativity, much can.

To learn more about Backward Design and apply it to a course, consider going through the self-guided Course Planning with Backward Design mini-course in Canvas.


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