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Pedagogical Development Office

Teaching Tip: Backwards Design in Competency-Based Education

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Part of what makes the Cegep system so unique is its focus on competency-based education and the program approach. But what does this mean for you and your students? How does it affect how your students learn? How does it affect how you teach your courses?

The program approach is a holistic notion of a student’s college experience. Students don’t come to Cegep just to take random courses; they come to complete a program. The central idea to the program approach is that all of the courses that a student takes should help them develop the knowledge and competencies that they need to be successful in their field of work as well as an educated citizen within our community.

So where do you and your courses fit into this paradigm? Through your course competencies. The Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport (MELS) gives each college a list of competencies that a student in a given program should have acquired by the time they have completed their Cégep diploma. Those competencies are then divided (and sometimes shared) among the different courses that make up a student’s program. This includes the General Education courses, since the competencies from these courses are shared by all students doing a DEC.

Each of your courses are part of a larger group of courses in a student’s program. Students will often need to have mastered competencies associated with your courses in order to succeed in other courses, later in their program. Making sure they leave your course, having acquired these competencies, is important.

So how can we be sure that our students really are coming out with the competencies we are trying to teach them? One way is to use a backwards design approach to planning your course. In the backwards design approach you start at the end of the course, with the learning outcomes you want your students to have achieved, and move backwards through your assessments, learning activities, and course plan, keeping these objectives in mind.

Steps in Backwards Design

Starting with the competencies, competency elements, and performance criteria given by MELS, work backwards from your Performance Criteria to design your course to include assessments and learning activities and are connected to these competencies.

1. Develop your Performance Criteria (Learning Outcomes). What do you want your students to know or be able to do when they have successfully completed your course? Try filling in the Course Objectives Table to help you organize your course objectives.

2. Plan learning activities and assessments based on your Performance Criteria:

a. Assessment: how will you know that your students have learned the material? What kind of assessment is the best way for them to show they know it? Try filling in the Course Assessment Table to help you align your assessments with your course objectives.

Ask yourself if this assessment:

    • Has them using the competency?
    • Has them using the competency in a situation that reflects how they would use it in the real world in your discipline?

b. Learning activities: how will I teach students how to do it? What is the best way to show them how to do this? Try filling in the Course Learning Activities Table to help you align your learning activities with your course objectives.

Ask yourself if this teaching strategy and learning activity:

    • Explains the competencies?
    • Models the competencies?
    • Allows the student to practice using the competencies?

3. When putting it together in a course, scaffold your assessments and learning activities. Ask yourself if your students need to know certain things before they can do others. Consider which elements should be taught first to make sure your students have the first building blocks before they go on to the rest. Try filling in the Course Plan Table to help you put all the pieces of your course together.

Pedagogical Development Office
Vanier College