New Instructional Designer Instructions

UAF eCampus New Instructional Designer Manual


Understanding by Design

The UAF eCampus Instructional Design Team has created a customized course development framework based on available and evolving research, including the Teaching for Understanding pedagogy and process developed at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Understanding by Design development framework. The UAF eCampus Course Development Rubric and the derived Development Checklist are modeled partially after the nationally recognized Quality Matters project materials. Despite having these established processes and guidelines, our designers are highly skilled and innovative thinkers, who work with faculty across the curriculum on course developments that often stray from these frameworks. The job of the designer is support UAF instructors in improving and transforming their teaching for the online context — for some teachers and pedagogies, the process below works well. For others, designers are called on for their creativity!

Important aspects of the development framework include:

  • “Reverse Engineering’ from outcomes to activities by way of evidence-based assessment of understanding, turning the process away from disconnected activities that are not coherently tied to learning objectives
  • Development emphasis on:
    • Learning community within the classroom
    • Facilitating the three vectors of interaction between student, instructor and curriculum
    • Integrating place-based knowledge, information and activities
    • Creating activities that bring the “real world’ and media into the classroom
    • Providing access to–and practices for working within–socially networked environments, inside the classroom and out
  • A foundation for online courses that promotes “Information Fluency’–the combination of:
    • discipline/course specific information and resources
    • application of critical thinking skills and techniques
    • presentation and participation tools and skills
  • Consideration of how activities and materials promote development of the students’ Personal Learning Environments (PLE)

Basic Principles

Understanding by Design  offers a powerful framework for designing courses that begins with desired outcomes of “enduring understandings’ for students, and then works backwards to design evidence of that understanding, and then learning assessment activities to lead to such evidence. See the CFT’s teaching guide on Understanding by Design for more details on this effective course design technique.

In general, a helpful way to design a course is to proceed through the following phases:

1) Identify desired results– GOALS

Organize your course around your core learning goals to foster enduring understandings in your students. Adapt your goals according to student feedback and readiness.

  • Content Goals: What knowledge do you want students to attain? Start with a broad perspective, considering all that you want students to become aware of and then narrow your selection to fit the parameters of your course.
  • Skill Goals: What are the abilities you want students to attain: What should students be able to do with their learning after your course? How can they apply their new knowledge?

2) Determine acceptable evidence – PROGRESS

Assess students’ ability to meet the learning goals, both at the beginning of the course and throughout the course. Are they getting it?   What progress are they making? What kinds of assessments will enable students to demonstrate that they are making progress toward the course’s learning goals?

  • Summative assessment: Summative assessments sum up a student’s performance with a grade at the end of a particular effort (unit, course).
  • Formative assessment: Formative assessments provide students with frequent, informal opportunities to re-think and revise.   Learning from mistakes leads to ongoing improvement in understanding.
  • Fit & Feasibility: Give assignments and tests that both teach and test the learning you value most.   Do your tests and assignments fit the learning goals you have set? For example, if you want students to be able to debate both sides of an issue, are your assessments giving them the opportunity to demonstrate that knowledge and skill? Also, are your assessments feasible for both you and your students? Is the workload you are planning reasonable, strategically placed and sustainable?

3) Plan learning experiences and instruction – PRACTICE

In class sessions and homework assignments, give students a chance to practice their learning–to engage new material and apply it.   Adapt your teaching strategies as needed, according to the ongoing assessments you do of student progress. Plan learning activities that support the learning goals of the course:

  • Point your students to exactly what you want them to learn. Provide them with a strong foundational structure on which to build further learning by presenting content in a well-organized fashion.
  • What are the best problems or questions for developing your students’ ability to meet your learning goals? How can they practice engaging content and skillfully using their new learning?


  • The “UBD Tree” –   lays out the Understanding by Design curriculum development process as a form in the shape of a tree with a space to capture notes about each specific stage of the process as a sequence. Examples. Fillable UBD Tree Form.
  • Bloom’s Taxomony for building Objectives to show Evidence – A classification of creating learning objectives, since the 1950’²s teachers have been using Bloom’s taxonomy as a guideline for creating objectives which show evidence of thinking skills beginning at the Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS) to the Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS).
  • Learning Assessment Cycle – There are many ways to motivate your students. As you move through the LAC you are not only looking for ways to deepen or strengthen their understanding (think  Blooms taxonomy) you are helping them create original products and reevaluate their work moving back and forth between presentation & participation and critical thinking.


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