Using backward design in an online teaching certificate course to encourage alignment of objectives and assessments.

Concurrent Session 7
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Brief Abstract

At Clovis, faculty are required to complete a certificate course in online teaching before becoming eligible to teach online. Faculty engage in backward design both in going through the course and in designing their own online courses. This highlights the importance of creating unit objectives and aligning assessments with them.


I am the instructional designer and student learning outcome coordinator at Clovis Community College, tasked primarily with increasing course success for both online and face to face courses. I have an Ed.D. from California State University, Fresno, an MS in Instructional Design from California State University, Fullerton, and an MA in Communication from California State University, Fresno. I love to help faculty find innovative and creative ways to encourage students to learn.

Extended Abstract

Course design for distance education courses has a bigger impact on student success than face-to-face course design (Herbert, 2006; Song, Singleton, Hill, & Koh, 2004). Research has shown that poor course design can negatively impact distance education students’ ability to be successful in the course even if the student is academically and technologically prepared (Frankola, 2001, Simunich, Robins & Kelly, 2015; Swan, 2001).

Frankola (2001) uncovered a list of reasons that students drop out of online courses; these reasons include poorly designed courses, and the perception of a poorly trained instructor.

At Clovis Community College, faculty are required to complete a certificate course in online teaching before being eligible to teach online. This course runs 12 weeks over the regular semester, and an accelerated 5-week session over the summer. The course is designed to follow the guidelines of the California Virtual Campus – Online Education Initiative course design rubric, while encouraging faculty to engage in backward design.

The first subsection of Section A of the CVC-OEI rubric, unit-level objectives, asks that courses include objectives for each of the units. These objectives should be placed in a consistent place (a unit overview page, for example), include demonstrable verbs, and align with the content that is in the unit. The course addresses this by starting with the faculty creating an online course road map that outlines units, their length, an overview, and a unit title. The second assignment is creating objectives for that unit.

Keeping backward design in mind, the second component of the certificate course goes over formative and summative assessments, and how assessments are aligned with the objectives. Finally, the course moves into creating online content, and extras (regulations, policies, etc).

At the community college level, faculty often don’t have specialized teacher training in any mode. Many of them report this is the first time they’ve had to think about how their objectives connect to assessments (one faculty included had a realization that their objective was compare/contrast, but their assessment focused on analyzing; they spoke about being frustrated for years that their students “weren’t doing the assignment right”).

As an instructional designer, it’s important to me to mirror what I’m asking my faculty to do. Each unit of the certification course includes objectives, and a sentence about how it connects back to the main assessment for the course.