If you ask Kelly Danaher, lecturer in Psychological and Brain Sciences, about Cornerstones for Course Design, she’d describe it as the perfect opportunity to learn backward course design from the experts and intentionally rethink her courses for virtual teaching and learning.

“Backward course design became my organizing framework and was particularly helpful for my fall 2020 course preparations,” Danaher said. “But I quickly realized that the strategies I learned would improve my pedagogical practices, regardless of course modality.”

Cornerstones for Course Design, a series of four interactive webinars, offers a foundational view of backward course design. Developed by Sara Nasrollahian, assistant director in the OTLT Center for Teaching, the program also highlights strategies to design a more equitable and flexible course.

 “The series provides a framework to develop an intentional course plan,” Nasrollahian said. “We help instructors identify course situational factors, reflect on what they want students to learn and retain long after a course ends, develop course learning objectives and assessments, then add bridging learning activities.”

Cornerstones appealed to Kara Kehe, lecturer in Health and Human Physiology, as a well-structured way to apply principles learned from a previous Course Design Institute to her fall 2020 courses.

“Participating in Cornerstones reinforced how new teaching technologies have the potential to enhance course delivery,” Kehe said. “Efforts to be adaptable have led to improved methods for facilitating collaborative activities and more tools to support student exploration of content.”

In each workshop, facilitators used active learning strategies to engage participants in the process and provided guided opportunities for small groups to connect about backward course design. Instructors engaged in discussions and activities, including Zoom chats, whiteboard interactions, and one-minute papers.

Cornerstones also emphasizes strategies to enhance transparency in the course context. To model these strategies, the facilitators explicitly share the goals and processes for activities, along with the criteria for completing them.

“The transparency framework reminded me how important it is to clearly communicate this alignment with students,” Danaher said. “Communicating how my learning objectives, engagement activities, and assessments align has structured students’ learning experiences, which is particularly important right now as we all struggle to navigate the pandemic.”

Throughout the series, instructors are encouraged to formatively assess their learning and perceptions about their courses.  “The reflective exercises recommended in supplemental materials helped me identify strategies that would transfer well to my courses,” said Kehe. “Cornerstones helped me carefully consider the process of learning during a pandemic from the perspective of students.”

Attend the Next Cornerstones

The next Cornerstones for Course Design will be held daily from noon to 1 p.m. from Tuesday, Jan. 5, through Friday, Jan. 8. We recommend individuals participate in every webinar; however, participants have the option to select which webinars they will attend.

All instructors, including graduate students, who wish to learn about or refresh their knowledge of course design are encouraged to register.

Register for Cornerstones for Course Design.