In my last post, I discussed writing lesson plans that map to the learning objectives in the course. Once the outcomes and learning objectives have been identified for the course, the lesson plans can be developed. After the lesson plans are developed, we are ready to build assignments.

Assignments in the course should come after lessons and should help move students through the course by providing opportunities to build the key skills identified in the course outcomes. I find it helpful to build these in reverse order. I start at the end of the course and consider the assignment(s) that will assess student mastery of the course outcomes. I then consider the next lower level of skill that students must master and build backwards. For example, in my Introduction to Financial Accounting course, the main course outcome is that students should be able to complete the accounting cycle. There is an assignment at the end of the course that measures their ability to do this. Throughout the course, students learn about the steps in the accounting cycle and complete assignments to practice each of the steps in the cycle. Students in the course tend to struggle with putting all the steps together; therefore, there are assignments that provide practice of each step and assignments that help them to see how each step fits into the entire cycle. Since adding the application assignments to the course, I find that students are better able to complete the accounting cycle assignment at the end of the course.

Appropriate assignments differ depending on the course outcomes; however, the strategy of beginning with the course outcome(s) and working backwards to develop assignments that build student skill sets works for every course. The difficulty lies in identifying the developmental stages of the skills. As professionals, we tend to skip or combine steps in completing tasks; therefore, we might fail to identify an important developmental stage for students. I find it helpful to sketch a hierarcy of skills when developing a course. I start with the course outcome(s) at the top, then consider the next lower skill, then the next, and so on. I ask myself, “In order to ____, students must be able to ___.” For example, in order to complete the accounting cycle, students must be able to complete each step in the accounting cycle. In order to complete each step in the accounting cycle, students must be able to develop financial statements, prepare closing entries, prepare adjusting entries, journalize and post business transactions, and analyze business transactions. I then continue this process until I arrive at the most basic skill.

Once we have identified what skills students should build/practice in the assignments, we then need to actually build the assignments. In future blog posts, we will discuss types of assignments and how to select the most appropriate type of assignment and technology.