Thoughtful course design begins with the articulation of goals and intended learning objectives. When preparing to teach a course, you should ask:

  • What do I want the students to know and what skills do I want them to have when they finish my course?

Once those questions are answered, the next step is to identify the specific ways in which students will achieve those goals.

  • What big ideas should students understand?
  • What topics will be covered?
  • What pedagogies will you employ?

Finally, think about assignments and exams that will further student learning and help you determine whether you have achieved the desired learning goals. With these ideas in mind, it becomes straightforward to write a syllabus that clearly describes your expectations and the requirements of the course.

1. In this session…

You will first read articles and prepare ideas that will be discussed in the videos. Next, you will watch video lectures where you will be instructed to pause and engage in a variety of activities, as well as think about the questions posed.

The outline is provided to serve as a guide to the session and serve as a support for note taking.

Download Session Outline [ PDF / DOC ]
Download Complete Session Video [ ZIP, 245 MB ]

2. Learning Objectives

After completing this session, the participant will be able to:

  • State the components of a syllabus.
  • Identify the components of Backward Course Design.
  • Evaluate content for a course you would like to teach based on content priorities.
  • Define and develop learning objectives for a course you would like to teach.

3. Pre-Session Activity


  • Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Chapter 1: Backward design. In Understanding by Design (Expanded 2nd ed., p. 13-64). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  • Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Chapter 2: Clarifying content priorities. In Understanding by Design (Expanded 2nd ed., p. 65-73). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  • Munzenmaier, C. (2013). Bloom’s taxonomy: What’s old is new again. The Learning Guild Research, 3–25.


  • Generate a list of topics for a course that you teach or would like to teach.

4. Session Introduction

Welcome to the second of five sessions included in our Best Practices for Teaching and Learning course.

Transcript [ PDF ]

5. Constructing a Syllabus

In this segment of the video, we discuss how to construct an effective syllabus for a course. We will refer to the example syllabus here: Example Syllabus [ PDF ].

Transcript [ PDF ]

6. Designing a Course Through Backward Design

The third video segment of Session 2 focuses on the use of backward course design to create courses that will help students better understand course material and enhance their ability to transfer knowledge to new situations.

Transcript [ PDF ]

Think About

  1. What are the big ideas within your discipline?
  2. Identify the underlying concepts of a topic within a course you teach or would like to teach.
  3. Prioritize the content into these 3 categories:
    • Big Ideas & Core Tasks
    • Important to Know and Do
    • Worth Being Familiar With

7. Developing Learning Objectives

In the last video segment of Session 2, we will focus on the creation of learning objectives that accurately reflect the knowledge, skills, and attitudes you would like your students to obtain.

Transcript [ PDF ]

Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy Handout [ PDF ]

Think About

Based on the topics you identified in the pre-session activity, consider these questions for the course that you teach or would like to teach:

  • Identify the underlying concepts and skills
  • Define intended learning objectives

8. Post-Session Activity


Create 5-10 learning objectives for a course you teach or would like to teach. Make sure that your learning objectives are observable, specific, and measurable.

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