Notes and Resources for Session 1: Overview of Backward Design
See a recording of the workshop here.
We began by breaking into small groups to answer the question: How transparent should we be with students about trying something for the first time? No doubt we will be trying many new things this Fall and beyond, so it is important to think about how we will present ourselves to students when trying something new. Those who shared after the activity seemed to prefer transparency: let students know when you are trying something new. It may build trust between teacher and student, and give students the opportunity to provide helpful formative feedback on an early iteration of a new activity. One participant noted it is important how to frame things: good to tell students why you are trying something new and what good can come of it; probably bad to tell students you aren't sure it's going to work or to be underconfident. I would add that you should also consider more generally how you are likely to be perceived. If you are worried you might struggle with credibility in front of your students, maybe don't point out you are new to things. If you are more worried about seeming approachable and open with students, you may be more inclined to admit you are doing something for the first time.
We revealed some trends from the pre-work. (This can be considered a very light application of Just-in-Time Teaching, a technique you might want to explore for your own course.) When considering designing a course, it seemed common to seek an existing syllabus from an experienced instructor. Early in the design process, many course designers were concerned about gathering content quickly: selecting a textbook, looking for good videos, podcasts, and readings, and assessing what they know and don't know about the subject. Many designers were thinking about their students, both who they were and what would make sense to them. All of this seems consistent with our advocacy of...
Backward design as a course design philosophy. We went over the basic idea: start with results/objectives, figure out assessment next, and then move on to learning activities. We spent a few minutes trying to get to the heart of our courses by figuring out what might be big, central, enduring ideas as opposed to other worthwhile but maybe less central material. We breezed past discussions of assessment and learning activities because several future sessions are devoted to those topics. We devoted a little time at the end to anticipate problems with backward design.
We used padlet to facilitate a couple of activities. You might explore that as an option for your course. Until I choose to delete it, you can still see the padlet we used to start identifying big ideas.
The notion of backward course design stems from the work of Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. See this white paper where Wiggins and McTighe explain their framework in some detail.
I also mentioned Dee Fink's Creating Significant Learning Experiences, which is consistent with backward design and developed specifically for higher education. See here for a medium-sized overview of Fink's framework.
This Word document might help you keep objectives, assessments, and activities aligned. You shouldn't have objectives that never get assessed, and you definitely shouldn't have assessments that don't meet any objectives. Likewise, you shouldn't have assessments without associated learning activities that help prepare students for the assessments, nor should you have learning activities that don't prepare students for any assessment. Each objective should have an assesment that checks on it, and learning actvities that prepare students for the assessment.
Here are the PowerPoint slides from the workshop.
Pre-work for Session 1: Overview of Backward Design
Imagine you have been tasked with teaching a new course this fall. In about one written page, describe how you would design the course. How would you start? What must be included in the course? Don't look up any best practices; we are just curious about what your approach might be before you start learning more about course design.
On a second page, offer a brief provisional outline of the course, including proposed assessments and activities. Don't spend more than thirty minutes on this pre-work.
Submit your work to this email address by 9am on Tuesday, June 23: What_Yo.firstname.lastname@example.org
Name your file according to this convention: LastName_Firstname_Session1
That will drop your submission into a Box Folder for us. We want to have a sense of what your initial approach to course design would be, so we can take that into account during the first session. We look forward to seeing you live on Zoom at 2pm on June 23. If you registered, you will have been sent a link to that meeting.