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Workshop addresses ‘backward design’


During the second day of the Institute for Student-Centered Learning, Assistant Professor of Social Work Mona Basta, center, explains to Rebecca Kissling, assistant professor of chemistry, how she used backward design in preparing for a class.

Establishing desired learning outcomes at the beginning of the teaching process and then designing steps to get there was the focus of the ninth Institute for Student-Centered Learning (ISCL). Known as “backward design,” the process involves establishing learning outcomes first, then determining how to assess that they’ve been met and, finally, designing activities for students to reach them.

The two-day workshop on campus last month, sponsored by the Center for Learning and Teaching, brought more than 50 faculty and staff members together to focus on the teaching process in a different way.

“We’ve all used parts of this process in the past, but have never put them together in this way before,” said Wayne Jones, professor of chemistry and director of the CLT. “If we make small changes, we can help faculty improve the design of individual classes and activities.”

Jennifer Brownstein, who will assume the director of ESL position next month, was one of the ISCL organizers, and put the backward design idea on the table. “I’m very interested in student-centered learning,” she said. “It’s a huge aspect of what I do as an ESL instructor and I thought it would be useful to show my positive experiences with a broader campus community.”

The ISCL committee used backward design, a model typically used in K-12 public education, to put the campus workshop together, providing a framework that can be used across levels and age groups. It can help faculty focus most on student needs and progress, Brownstein said.

Mini-sessions on each of the three steps for backward design culminated in a poster session for actual courses being taught by the participants.

“One thing that I noticed was the high energy of the participants and the willingness to collaborate and to share what they were learning,” Brownstein said. “It doesn’t matter what you teach or what the content is, the process is the same. I think it acted as an equalizer across disciplines with everyone sharing and connecting. It was a great validation for teaching workshops in a student-centered model.”

Another benefit of this year’s workshop, Jones said, was the mix of new participants and experienced ISCL fellows — about half had participated in a prior year and attended this year to add to their classroom skills in a new way.

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Last Updated: 10/14/08