Backwards Design: Applying an innovative approach to developing online resources

Author Information
Siri Sorensen
Amy Buechler-Steubing
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Capella Univeristy
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 
Capella University utilizes an outcomes-based approach to curriculum design for all courses and credit-bearing programs. In 2010, Learning Resources more formally adopted this approach for the development of our online, self-paced resources housed on iGuide, our virtual campus website. We first used this new approach to develop a resource focused on helping our learners strengthen their reading skills. In partnership with our curriculum specialists and instructional designers, we worked with a faculty expert to define externally validated competencies. We then developed self-assessments, instructional content, and activities aligned with these competencies. From there, we worked with our web and interactive designers to build the online Reading Strategies resource now available to our learners.
Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 
As an online institution, it is important for us to offer online resources to learners. The resources we offer are self-paced and focus on building critical skills for academic and personal success. Our backwards design approach to creating online resources is an effective practice because it involves developing outcomes and competencies which inform the instructional design and assessment strategy. The end result is an online resource that provides learners with a more personalized experience which helps them focus on the most relevant content and resources to strengthen critical skills.
We include self-assessments to help learners identify their skills gaps and guide them to the right content within the resource. The assessments also allow learners to measure their own skill development and track their progress over time.  For example, in the Reading Strategies resourcelearners are encouraged to complete the initial general Reading Self-Assessment to determine which section of the resource to focus on first. We position additional assessments throughout the resource to help learners gauge their learning and skill development before moving on to a subsequent section.
 When creating a resource, first we consider what we want learners to get out of the site, what we want them to accomplish, and what competencies they will be developing.  Answering these questions helps inform the development of outcomes and competencies. As an example, a few of the questions we asked when developing the Reading Strategies resource include:
What does an effective reader do?
What skills and competencies are needed to be an effective reader?
Reflecting on the answers to these questions guides development of outcomes and competencies which inform the instructional design approach and assessment strategy. With these in mind, we are prepared for the development of activities, media, instructional web content, and assessments. Once the instructional and assessment strategies are established, web design helps determine how to present and layout information on a page.


Our Reading Strategies competencies included:
1.    Explore the fundamentals of reading
2.    Effectively read for purpose and desired outcome
3.    Incorporate valuable and effective study skills and strategies
4.    Reflect personal areas to improve reading
In addition, sub-competencies were developed to further define the competencies.
Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 
This innovative resource gives learners the right tools at the right time to help them improve their reading skills and become more efficient readers. These skills and strategies can help learners lay a foundation for continued skill development in the areas of reading, writing, critical thinking, and metagcognition.  The self-assessments provide opportunities for learners to assess and identify skill gaps, refer them to relevant activities, and help them apply and improve their skills as they assess their progress over time.
This approach provides a structured learning experience to help learners assess their strengths and weaknesses and provide a path through the materials to help them improve their skills. The self-assessment model also helps learners understand when they have made sufficient progress with their skills and helps them move on to resources in other areas to continue academic skill development. This organization helps prevent learners from being caught in a loop of surfing from page to page, not sure where to focus their attention. The structure of the content includes contextual copy, relevant media, and eye-catching illustrations to emphasize each reading competency and sub competency.  The model focuses on helping learners to develop the necessary skills and competencies of an effective reader which supports their ability to be successful in their academic program.
In addition to our reading strategies resource, we plan to develop additional outcomes-based resources and have adopted this method as our standard approach to resource development. This approach has also been adopted by the library and other online resource providers at our institution. We are currently collecting data around the self-assessments to identify trends and patterns of usage by learners. By analyzing web trends data we are able to identify pathways of resource usage.
How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

This effective practice most closely relates to the Sloan-C pillars of learning effectiveness and student satisfaction. This effective practice is useful for creating a variety of academic support resources. Self-assessments in particular are a useful tool to provide learners with feedback about their skill sets that provides them with a specific course of action to follow and prompts them to move on when they are ready. The backwards design approach lends itself to the creation of high-quality, self-paced instructional resources and, in addition, the self-assessments help learners determine needs, skill opportunities, and identify the most relevant content and activities for them to complete. This effective practice promotes student satisfaction because it allows learners to identity their needs and locates the most relevant resources and information to build their competencies. Students at any level can benefit from utilizing a self-assessment as a baseline to begin building their skills.

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

To create the resource and self-assessment we used web standard technology, a mix of HTML, CSS and jQuery. These are common languages able to be used across web browsers to display content. We built out the HTML structure, CSS styles and jQuery interactions while utilizing a few existing pieces from the web community, like the jQueryUI buttonset and a plugin called scrollTo. With the code developed, the assessments can customize the learners’ results based on their choices so we can give them the resources they need most. Using web standard technology reaches more platforms than media like Flash, gives us more open source knowledge, and provides greater flexibility for future projects and enhancements. For the checkpoint assessments, we used Adobe Flash. We used similar ideas to generate the learner’s results using ActionScript.

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 
The Reading Strategies resource is cost effective because it is entirely self-paced, while simultaneously personalizing results for every learner. There is no need for an instructor to lead the learner through each section and instructors can refer learners to this resource at anytime. 
We feel it is also important to emphasize the importance of using human resources during the development process. We leveraged curriculum specialist and faculty subject matter content expertise when developing outcomes and competencies. Collaboration with an instructional designer contributed to determining an appropriate assessment strategy and development of relevant activities and content. Partnerships with interactive designers and web producers contribute to the creation of media and web content to align to the outcomes and competencies. When seeking to implement this effective practice, it will be helpful to determine which staff at your institution have content expertise related to the topic as well as individuals with instructional, Web, and media design expertise.
Other Comments: 
Institutions can also adopt this model of resource development. The outcomes-based approach for instructional design of resources starts with outcome and competency definition. Then, with these in mind, a high level design for the structure of the resources and appropriate assessments and instructional segments is put in place. Then, the content creation process focuses on development of instructional content, activities, and assessments aligned to the outcomes and competencies. With this effective practice, institutions can create powerful resources focused on achieving established outcomes and competencies. This process supports development of high-quality online instructional content and activities, enabling institutions to provide their students with 24/7 access to valuable skill-building resources. 
Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Siri Sorensen
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Effective Practice Contact 2: 
Amy Buechler-Steubing
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