Backward Design and Community of Inquiry


Good course design can be applied to any modality (Face to Face, Online, Livestream or combination).  This module will review basic course design principles you can apply to your courses. Let’s review Backward Design and Community of Inquiry as design principles which help ensure your courses meet university outcomes and enhance the student experience.

Backward Design

It is important to begin with the end in mind.  Using a method called  Backward Design each course design begins with a review of the UVU approved course outcomes.  Learning objectives are created for each lesson that align back to these course outcomes.  Assessments are then developed that align back to the lesson learning objectives. Lastly, lesson instructional materials are developed or procured to support the assessments and learning outcomes.  The following Backward Design graphic illustrates this explanation. 

Consider how you will use backward design to plan your own courses. 

  • What is it that you want to accomplish?
  • How will you know you accomplished it?
  • What will you do to prepare and practice?

1. Identify desired results (big ideas and skills). 2. Determine acceptable evidence (culminating assessment task). 3. Plan learning experiences and instruction (learning events)

Community of Inquiry

Tier 1: educational experience; Tier 2: social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence (structure/process); Tier 3: supporting discourse, setting climate, selecting content

The Community of Inquiry (CoI) Framework is a tool used for research into online learning.  In this framework, there are three "presences" that combine to create the overall educational experience. Consider how you will   support each of the "presences" in your own courses. 

  • Cognitive Presence
    • "The extent to which the participants in any particular configuration of a community of inquiry are able to construct meaning through sustained communication. . . In other words, the extent to which learners use and apply critical inquiry."
    • Consider how you will foster critical inquiry appropriate to course level.
    • For example:
      • What types of experiences will you provide?
      • What type of materials will you use?
      • What types of assessments will you use?
  •  Social Presence
    • "The ability of learners to project their personal characteristics into the community, thereby presenting themselves to the other participants as "real people."
    • Consider how you will encourage students to interact and get to know each other.
    • For example
      • How will you help students make connections and feel comfortable with other students?
  • Teaching Presence
    • Distinguishes three key roles of teachers that impact teaching presence in blended and online environments:
      • Instructional design and organization to create a powerful learning environment
      • Facilitate discourse among members of the CoI through careful planning
      • Direct instruction to motivate, engage and maintain interest within the CoI
    • Consider how you will provide rich learning experiences
    • For example:
      • How will you design your environment to foster learning?
      • How will you engage students individually and as a community?
      • How will you effectively present your instruction?

Additional Resources

Cleveland-Innes, M. & Campbell, P. (2012).Emotional presence, learning, and the online learning environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning , 13 (4), 269-292.

Garrison, R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (n.d.). About the Framework. The Community of Inquiry. Retrieved March 7, 2022, from

Rienties, Bart and Bethany Alden-Rivers, " Measuring and Understanding Learner Emotions: Evidence and Prospects , " Learning Analytics Review 1, 2014)