What I did before
Like many teachers, I begin to plan my course by creating course-level learning objectives and after that design the course to meet these.
What changed my practice
In winter 2015, I participated in the Course Design Intensive (CDI), a workshop offered by the Centre of Teaching and Learning (CTLT), for those who want to design or re-design a course. My goal was to re-design my psychosocial rehabilitation course in the Master of Occupational Therapy program. I wanted to make it more relevant to students’ future practice and augment their interest to work with people living with severe mental illness. From day one of the course, I wanted students to be able to answer “How will I use this learning in my future practice?”
In the CDI, I was introduced to the concept of backward course design (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005), an approach that helps move the focus of course design from course content to students’ longer term learning outcomes. Backward course design reminds the instructor to ask questions such as: “Why are we doing this course/assignment?”, or “By the end, what longer term effect will this course have on students?” (Daugherty, 2006).
Backward course design is a 4–step process:
Step 1: Formulating big ideas and determining relevancy to learners
- Consider students’ significant learning (Fink, 2013) to answer “What will students know and be able to do by the end of the course?”
Step 2: Formulating learner-centred learning objectives
Step 3: Identifying assessment methods and setting criteria for assessing performance to measure the achievement of the learning objectives.
Step 4: Choosing teaching methods/strategies for achieving learning objectives
What I do now
With support from a CTLT consultant, and using a backward design approach, I revamped my course using the 4-step process described above. In doing so, I asked the question: 5 years after finishing the course, what key ideas/concepts do I hope students will remember? This approach helped me identify long-term and significant (Fink, 2013) learning outcomes for my students’ future practice.
Though much of the class content remained similar to past course offerings, small group learning, peer presentations, and peer critique were adopted to encourage students to actively integrate their learning into a clinical context. With my support as an instructor, the students chose a clinical context to apply their learning, conducted research, and hands-on practice to develop competence in applying the clinical skills, and presented the application of the skills to their peers.
I have begun to evaluate the re-designed course. In addition to regular course evaluation, I conducted mid-course evaluations and also held a focus group three months after the course. Feedback indicates students were motivated to engage in the learning activities of their choice and were able to better relate learnings to their future practice.
How this experience is relevant to teachers in the Faculty of Medicine
Backward course design helped me re-redesign this course with learner-centred deliverables. Course evaluation findings indicated that changes made to the course meant the content and delivery were more significant to learners as practitioners and this helped augment their engagement. The backward design approach guides instructors to focus on long-term benefits for students, in particular, the ability to apply learning to a quickly changing context (Daugherty, 2006), such the health care environment.
References and additional reading
Daugherty, K. K. (2006). Backward course design: making the end the beginning. American journal of pharmaceutical education, 70(6), 135-139.
Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. John Wiley & Sons.
Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Alexandra, VA: Assn. for Supervision & Curriculum Development.