Course Development

Whether creating a single instructional activity or your own version of a course, consider backward design, a method for designing instruction that begins with the end goal: what students should know when they leave your course. Working backward from the end goal keeps the focus of instruction on learning. Consult the resources on this page for assistance in designing backward.

We encourage you to invite others into your design process. Consider collaborating with people who have taught the same course, designed similar activities for other courses, taken the course, or helped others design course materials. If you would like to work with an instructional consultant, contact us at:

Designing Backward

Consult the table below for information on each step in the backward design process. For a general description of how to design courses backward, see Stanford’s webpage:

Start by establishing one to three important and fundamental ideas you want students to understand when they complete your course. Further specify those ideas into learning objectives. Learning objectives describe what students will be able to do upon completion of a lesson of instruction. See the following resources on learning objectives. Also, consult the courses page for the Course Committee approved learning objectives for each course (and/or examples of learning objectives in individual faculty members’ course syllabi).

Determine how you will assess students. What will they produce to show you that they have learned the skills and knowledge necessary to meet the learning objectives? Create team projects, individual exams, paper assignments, or other performance assessments that you will use to assess students’ learning. Then, construct grading guides, or rubrics, for each performance assessment. See the following resources on designing performance assessments and developing grading rubrics.

Find or develop in-class activities and out-of-class assignments that will give students the practice they need to construct the knowledge and build up the skills required to do well on larger performance assessments. Students need to be able to practice what they are learning and receive feedback on their progress before completing final course deliverables. Activities could include homework problems, writing assignments leading up to the final project, practice problems, in-class discussion questions, etc. See the following resources on practice experiences.

Select resources (reading assignments, websites, videos, cases) to help students formulate understandings before they attempt to put ideas into practice. Students need inputs to inform their thinking. See the courses page for past syllabi with other instructors’ lists of resources.

Create an activity or presentation to present the content in such a way as to help students make sense of or use the materials you assigned to them. Do not limit yourself to lecturing on the content. Content can be presented in the form of a problem to be solved, a discussion to explore ideas, a video to be critiqued, or other forms that you may think of. Consider keeping “lecture” presentations to 20-minute segments with questions or activities between. (This will ensure better attention on the part of students and allow them to engage in actively learning the content in between lecture segments.) See the following resources on organizing presentations and discussions, and consult the Teaching Methods page for resources on presenting content in the form of problems, cases, or other non-traditional formats.

Pointers for Instructors Teaching Existing Courses for the 1st Time

If it is your first time teaching a course that is already on the books, you may be wondering what others who teach the course have done. Common questions and their answers follow.

Begin with the course committee chairperson for the course that you are assigned to teach. For a listing of chairs and membership, see the course committee page. If a course committee doesn’t exist for your assigned course or you want a second perspective, reach out to the appropriate Program Coordinator.

Visit the courses page on this site.

Sample syllabi can be found on the relevant course page by navigating from the courses page. If you can’t find a syllabus for a course that you are scheduled to teach, contact Alison Laninger ( and request a version from a previous semester.

The university requirements for Penn State course syllabi are listed on the University Faculty Senate Syllabus Requirements page.

For additional considerations, see the College of IST’s Syllabus Requirements and Recommendations page.

Ask them! If you are interested in working with a student to develop or improve your course, consider working with an undergraduate Learning Assistant.