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Zero-Cost Textbook Adoption: Course Redesign

This guide offers information and best practices related to the adoption of zero-cost course materials.

Backwards Design

Backwards design is one option for course design.  Using this method, instructors determine course goals as the first step, and focus on student learning and understanding throughout the process.  This approach is particularly applicable when using open resources, since they can an be adapted to fit student needs. 

The 3 steps of backward design are:

  1. Develop outcomes
  2. Create assessments aligned with outcomes
  3. Determine content and scaffolding

This infographic describes the concept of backwards design. A long description of the graph is available at to an external site.

An infographic describing the concept of backwards design. A long description of the graph is available at

Basics of Backwards Design by Rebecca Johnson, used with permission.

Consultation and Guidance

Depending on your institution, you may have local support for course redesign.  Check if your campus has an instructional designer or curriculum developer to help with this process.  They might have specific guidelines or resources for you.  The PALSave Team is also available for general questions and support.

Open Pedagogy

 If you are familiar with open educational resources, you may have heard the term "open pedagogy."  It is a learner-driven teaching approach that that utilizes open resources and engages students with renewable assignments rather than disposable ones.  With renewable assignments (per Wiley and Hilton):

  • The student creates an artifact
  • The artifact has value beyond supporting its creator's learning
  • The artifact is made public
  • The artifact is openly licensed

This new approach is worth exploring during the redesign process, but may require a big change to your teaching style.  Check out the following resources for more ideas about open pedagogy, and specific considerations for its use.

What is Open Pedagogy?

Introduction to Open Pedagogy

Open Pedagogy Notebook

Considerations for Using Open Pedagogy

An infographic describing four guiding ideas illustrating the concept of open pedagogy. A long description of the graph is available at

Open Pedagogy Guiding Ideas. by SUNY OER Services. This work is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

The infographic above describes four guiding ideas illustrating the concept of open pedagogy. A long description of the graph is available at

Step 1: Outcomes

"What should students know, understand, and be able to do? What is worthy of understanding? What enduring understandings are desired?" (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005, p. 2). Thinking about your goals for the course and defining clear learning objectives prior to developing content will help you align assessments and lessons in order for students to accomplish your goals for the course.  Your objectives should be measurable and observable. 

It may be helpful to use a template when defining your course's learning outcomes. This template from Vanderbilt University offers a clear table format with learning objectives, goals, evaluative criteria, and a strategic learning plan.

Here are some action verbs for writing powerful outcomes based on Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives :
Arrange Choose Copy Define Describe Duplicate Find Identify Label List Locate Match Memorize Name Omit Order Quote Recall Recite Recognize Relate Repeat Reproduce Select Spell State Tell
Arrange Associate Clarify Classify Compare Contrast Defend Describe Differentiate Discuss Exemplify Explain Express Grasp Identify Illustrate Indicate Infer Interpret Locate Paraphrase Organize Outline Recognize Reorganize Rephrase Report Restate Review Rewrite Select Summarize Transform Translate Visualize
Apply Appraise Break down Calculate Choose Classify Compute Construct Contrast Criticize Demonstrate Determine Develop Diagnose Dramatize Employ Estimate Examine Execute Formulate Give examples Identify Illustrate Implement Interpret Make use of Manipulate Modify Operate Practice Schedule Sketch Solve Use Utilize
Analyze Break down Calculate Categorize Change Classify Combine Compare Contrast Criticize Debate Deduce Derive Diagram Differentiate Discriminate Discuss Dissect Distill Distinguish Divide Examine Experiment Extrapolate Formulate Identify assumptions Illustrate Induce Inspect Investigate Figure Find Model Modify Organize Predict Probe Question Simplify Sketch Solve Survey Test
Agree Appraise Argue Assess Award Challenge Check Choose Conclude Convince Criticize Critique Debate Decide Defend Detect Discount Discredit Disprove Dispute Estimate Evaluate Judge Justify Monitor Predict Prioritize Persuade Qualify Rank Rate Recommend Rule on Score Select Support Test Validate Value Verify Weigh
Adapt Arrange Assemble Build Change Collect Compose Conclude Construct Create Design Develop Devise Discover Estimate Extend Formulate Forward Generalize Imagine Infer Integrate Invent Make up Manage Modify Organize Originate Plan Posit Predict Prepare Produce Propose Rearrange Set up Suppose Theorize Transform Verify

Step 2: Assessment

Step two in the backwards design process is to think about how the final objective will be assessed. Your outcomes might be measured by a mix of formative and summative assessments. If possible, assignments should be "authentic," to the types of skills used by professionals in the discipline. 

Using the backward design approach, you will select your assessment based on the type of desired outcomeFor example:

Type of Outcome Type of Assessment


Objective test items that require students to recall or recognize information:

  • Fill-in-the-blank
  • Multiple-choice items 
  • Labeling diagrams

Step 3: Content

At the content stage, you will identify readings, activities, and lessons that align with your desired outcomes and assessments. Choose content, create lessons, and develop assignments that will ensure students are prepared for the assessments, thus achieving the learning outcomes for the course. 

Suggested Readings

Bowen, Ryan S., (2017). Understanding by design. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.

Elder, A. (2017). The OER starter kit: Assessing course outcomesIowa State University Digital Press.

DeRosa, R. & Robison, S. (2017). From OER to Open Pedagogy: Harnessing the Power of Open. In Jhangiani, R.S. & Biswas-Diener, R. (Eds.), Open: The Philosophy and Practices that are Revolutionizing Education and Science, pp 115–124. London: Ubiquity Press. 

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development. 

Wiley, D. & Hilton III, J. (2018). Defining OER-Enabled Pedagogy. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 19(4).