Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Backward Course Design

I'm currently participating in a Summer Teaching Institute run by my institute's Teaching and Learning Center in order to add more technology to my classes. I was surprised that the first 3 sessions were actually not about technology per se, but rather about course design. In retrospect, this makes perfect sense: pedagogy should drive the use of technology, not vice-versa.

One new concept that the institute introduced was backward course design. Normally, I think of a backward design as one that's inconsistent or wrong-headed. In this context, however, it means that the ends drive the means, that the goals of the course determine the activities of the course. Conveniently enough, Mark Sample wrote an article about this topic in last week's Chronicle. He creates an analogy of a target:

'Imagine a set of three concentric rings. The outer ring represents knowledge “worth being familiar with” for students. The middle ring encapsulates knowledge and skills “important to know and do.” Finally, the smallest ring, the inner ring, represents “enduring understanding”—the fundamental ideas you want to students to remember days and months and years later, even after they’ve forgotten the details of the course.'

Once the instructor has identified the target(s), then he or she can design the course and course activities to address all of these goals.

This has helped me so far in English 101, a course that you would think would already have clear goals (since they're established by the department). Thinking backward, I realized that one of my goals was to have my students become more conscious and involved citizens. But was I actively working toward those goals beyond my choice of readings? Articulating a Student Learning Outcome helped show me ways to better support this goal through reflection and blogging. I realized that another enduring goal of mine is to have my students be tech-savvy, but I haven't really been providing enough support for this goal and keep getting frustrated at their ineptness; now I have baby-steps built into the syllabus.

My next task is to establish clear outcomes for my British literature survey. What do I really want them to take with them? What do I want them to remember a year after the course?

1 comment:

  1. I'm lurking through your blog, and found this really helpful as I'm coming up with a syllabus for Intro to Women & Gender Studies this fall, which is a completely new course for me (and one which I never took as an UG). As the "outcomes" for the course are incredible vague, I'm pretty much starting from scratch (while comparing several widely different syllabuses which have been used in the past). Thanks!