Your Turn to Talk – well, to write – Ideas and Questions

The Set Up

Okay, here are the two questions I’ll offer to get discussion and commenting started here in virtual space.  The questions are akin to the “starting out” I’d have asked you in person.  And as I read your comments, I’ll respond with both information/clarification, and with next new questions.  As you respond to others’ ideas, be sure to acknowledge the person who’s sparked your thinking by using that person’s name in your response, maybe even quoting a key phrase or line.

Leave a comment, write a reply.  Come back more than once to see ideas take shape.

The Questions

1.  Given the readings on “Teaching Backward” and Presentation Segment 1.1 with its focus on the 4As of Aligned Design: What are the one or two things about this approach to course design that seem most interesting or helpful to you?  What is one question you would like us to further address, or idea to clarify?

2.  What is one idea about learning – new or familiar to you, from the Presentation Segment 1.2 or 1.3 or from you own learning – that helps you think about designing college courses, especially courses that could be conducted in rooms such as those in STSS?  What is this idea?  How does it help you see teaching and/or learning in new ways?  How might it help you plan a course or class session?

The Commenting Process

1.  Scroll to the bottom of this post, then click on Leave a Comment.

2.  Paste or type your comment into the dialog box that will appear.  To post the comment, you’ll be asked for your email address and name (the email doesn’t get shared, not even with me as blog “owner”).  You can also click on a Twitter, Facebook, WordPress or Google+ icon to verify your identity and have the avatar associate with that account show up in your comment

3.  Don’t worry when your comment doesn’t show up right away.  I’ve set up this blog so that I moderate comments – keeps the spam away.  I’ll do moderate / approve comments fairly quickly.

(If you want easy access check back on the post setting out the Online Session Tasks, click here.)




  1. While reading the assigned materials, I found myself thinking about my limited experience as a Teaching Assistant. As part of my duties, I was asked to teach a lesson on medical malpractice and defensive medicine. I decided to put together a PowerPoint presentation that provided a bird’s eye view of the medical malpractice system and the relationship between medical malpractice and defensive medicine. While preparing my presentation, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to say what journal articles and textbooks I wanted to cite. I never stopped to think about what students should understand or be able to do with the information I was providing. I also never thought about how I would determine whether or not students understood what I was saying or learned anything about medical malpractice and defensive medicine. In fact, I did not think about my learning outcomes until a month after my presentation when my boss asked me to write a question on medical malpractice and defensive medicine for the final exam.

    Thinking about my teaching experience, I have discovered a lot about myself as a Teaching Assistant as well as ways I can use backwards design to improve future lessons on medical malpractice and defensive medicine. Next time, I plan to start with the following learning objectives: 1) to have students explain the purpose of the medical malpractice system, and 2) to have students describe how the fear of being sued for malpractice affects health care providers’ behavior. Then, I will develop learning activities to help students meet these learning objectives. Afterwards, I will develop and administer assessment tools to determine whether or not I was able to help students successfully meet my learning objectives.

    Even though I have come to realize how backwards design can benefit both myself and my students, I am wondering, what are some common mistakes instructors make when trying to implement it?

  2. Response to Question 2: I was particularly struck by the distinction between students (competitors) and learners (collaborators). In many educational settings, individuals maybe socialized to be students that are competing with one another for better grades, awards/honors, scholarships, etc. Even though these competitive aspects of education will probably never disappear, there are things I can do as an instructor to turn a classroom full of students into a classroom full of learners. First, I would need to create a safe, positive classroom environment where individuals can openly share their thoughts and ideas without feeling embarrassed or stupid if they make a mistake or take a highly unpopular/controversial stance on an issue. Second, I would need to reinforce positive behaviors and model the types of interpersonal interactions and dialogues I want to see occurring in my classroom. Third, I could assign group projects that require everyone’s effort and input to complete successfully and in a timely manner. For example, if I was teaching a research methods class, I might assign individuals to groups and ask them to write a scholarly research paper. They would have to develop their own research question, find a data set, analyze and interpret the data, and present their results to the class. A project of this type would require individuals to work collaboratively and hopefully see the benefits of group work, such as the exchange of new ideas and information. Fourth, during class, I could have individuals pair up with their neighbors, discuss different topics, and summarize their discussion for the rest of the class.

  3. 1. I felt that the “teaching backward” strategy makes perfect sense and I thought that was how teaching was supposed to happen in the classroom – at least in the sense that you start with a learning goal and then work on activities to help students achieve that goal. I thought it was interesting and really important that before you come up with activities you should think of how you can appropriately assess the students’ learning. I had never thought of this before and I think this is perhaps something that some lecturers I have had didn’t think of either. I remember times when I would wonder “what is the point of this activity?” or “why are we wasting our time with this busy work?”. I think that thinking about your method of assessment first can really help shape the types of activities you choose, and it will help your activities become more meaningful, and not just an activity for the sake of doing an activity.
    I don’t really have any questions about this method, but I wonder how this would transpire cross-culturally and cross-generationally. How would this teaching method be received in a more collectivist, Confucian society like those in East Asia? I remember I had a friend who taught English in Japan and was always frustrated with how mechanical and outdated the teaching methods were in Elementary schools. She would try to do something that wasn’t in the textbook and the students did not know how to react.

    2. I think the bookends on a lecture concept is a good way to help think about how to use a classroom or environment in learning. We can think of ways to take advantage of the STSS-style classroom to engage students in activities that stimulate learning, and, based on what we observe from the students, we can adjust further activities or components of the class to help the students better learn the content and how to use it. I think it is important to actively engage with students throughout any workshop or course, and make adjustments to any teaching methods or activities as necessary, as not all students will learn the same as others. While I am not a teacher, I think this concept – of being aware of your environment and continuously observing your students and their learning – is important for anyone engaging with students and/or student activities.

  4. Question 1 response:

    The emphasis on answering the “so what” of the course and the emphasis on student participation are concepts that I liked, injecting my job with a political dimension. The first is a challenging, and sometimes frightening question to ask in some cases, but the effort to answer that question is something that should be done, and something not always asked in my department. To answer this question is sometimes irksome to me, because I have to question the teaching environment of my entire department, as well as ask hard questions of myself as an educator. To do this, though, has the potential to stress the seriousness of education, making it something that you don’t just do, but an experience that allows you to engage with new concepts and challenge existing beliefs.

    The question that I would like to further address is the way in which some of the language used in the articles, such as “client-centered” and “assessment” seem to conflate education with learning that must be quantifiable, that teaching is geared to testing, or that an educational environment should resemble a commodity-driven corporate environment. Obviously I’m interested in learning how to design courses in a more thoughtful way, but sometimes I find the wording a little worrisome.

    Question 2 response:

    I was struck by the idea of an inverted classroom, especially since my experience this semester with the students is that they aren’t much for talking in class. I like the ability of the inverted model of teaching and use an STSS classroom to provide a collaborative and creative space in which students have to be participants, i.e. they have to do something rather than staring at me in section (this is a current problem). The collaboration and creation that happens in the classroom is also tied to reconceptualization of the student as a learner and citizen, which holds students accountable for their actions in the classroom and shows me the political consequences of continuing to teach in a way that reinforces exams. The inverted classroom model by nature makes the students accountable and allows the classroom to become a creative space Although I can’t change the lecture format of the class that TA for this semester, I can think about collaborative work, small group discussions, and creative activities for my sections, incorporating them into the structure of every class, instead of now and again for kicks.

  5. Question 1:
    I think that the big challenge for me in trying to implement a “backwards design” is that I do not moderate the courses I teach in (and even if, theoretically, I did, I would not teach all of the lectures). When the assessment format (testing – usually multiple choice) is dictated by another individual, it is challenging to build my teaching sessions in any way other than the traditional lecture. It’s all well and good when you are the one designing the entire course, but how do you most effectively apply this design in “miniature” – i.e. on the level of a single lecture?

    Question 2:
    As an instructor of professional veterinary students, the concept that most resonates with me is the idea of figuring out what the students/learners really need to know out in the “real world.” When we are teaching students in their clinical rotations, we do a good job with this (of course, by its nature everything is hands-on/active learning there), but in the pre-clinical curriculum we tend to get bogged down by details. The students clearly don’t care for this – 90% of them are (seemingly unashamedly) on Facebook during many lectures. I have started trying to bookend my lectures with clinical cases in an attempt to convince the students that the information in the middle is in fact important and relevant for them. Since we don’t have access to an active learning classroom for the majority of our teaching, I think that it takes a bit more creativity to incorporate some of the activities that may be more natural in the alternative setting (although this could be simply my inexperience talking…).

  6. Question 1:

    I find Robin Wright’s description of classrooms as “laboratories” very helpful in generating a more learner-centered environment. Her approach suggests a re-understanding of the classroom not as a space where students come to learn, to arrive at predestined goals, and to be assessed according to them, but rather, as a laboratory for thinking, experimenting, and exploring the potential of the students’ initial ideas. In this process, the ideas that the students bring to the classroom become the raw materials, the starting point—’not’ what I as the instructor impose. To implement this approach (in a post-reading reflective writing assignment), I plan to devise an activity in which the learners brainstorm for ideas collectively, rather than individually. While creating an outline together, they will observe how their thoughts are joined into one outcome. This observation will help them realize that “reflection” is in itself a collective process, and that ideas do not unfold in isolation.

    Through this activity, I will also be able to tie the “4As of Aligned Design” together more concretely. Each learner brings in his/her presumptions and worldviews (through their disciplines, cultural backgrounds, and other senses of belonging) to the collective writing process; the differences and similarities among these outlooks will be negotiated into an aim that they create together in the form of a “thesis” or an “argument”; and finally, while doing the writing activity, they will be prepared to assess the novel more in depth (for the next meeting).

    While thinking of activities that would be more “backward” and learner-oriented, I discovered myself trying to combine a goal into this process—which is, the students should learn, at the end of the activity, that thinking is ‘social,’ whether done individually or collectively. How can I free myself from imposing my intention on the learners?

    As some other comments mentioned, I also would like to know if there are any critical pitfalls that we should watch out when we try to apply the “teaching backward” model to the actual classroom setting.

  7. Response to Question 1
    I think the most important points that made me interest about teaching backward and 4As is how to create/design learning and teaching activities that help students retain knowledge, practice skills, and retrieve those knowledge/skills to use in the future. Readings on 4As design do not provide enough information on how to design activities but readings on teaching backward provide elaborated thoughts about how teaching activities can promote remembering, learning, retrieving, and retaining knowledge for future uses.
    I really like the idea that learners are collaborators not competitors. This is very true from my experiences. I really feel uncomfortable to compete with anyone else because I have learned and reflected from my own experiences that I sometimes can learn/practice some work better than my friends while I cannot beat my friends on other subjects/topics. Nobody wants to be a loser in competition but when we perceived each other as competitors, we tried to avoid our secret of learning. However, once I and my friends cooperated with each other on some projects and tradeoff our knowledge and experiences on the same subjects, I found both of us can do better on our project. The knowledge from this reading encourages me to think more about group learning and how to assess it more effectively. It may be a useful strategy to encourage learning process of students/learners who have different fundamental knowledge and learning styles. And the idea of varying situations of learning in different group size may help Thai students who tend not to be familiar with discussion in class (Thai students tend to work best independently).
    Assessment of group work could be challenged and I would like you to emphasize more on this topic. My from experiences in group work, I found that when ones felt they know less about the project than the others, they tended not to give opinions or was not willing to give full attention and efforts to the project. This seemed unfair to learners who had done more work but had the same grade with learners who did the small part in the project.

  8. Response to Question 2
    I found everything in this seminar is new to me. Currently I am interested in constructivist and connectivist learning” and “Zull’s model about adult learning”.
    As a conservationist, I am more interested in how to teach learners to reflect integral to the process of knowledge to deal with controversy and conflict in the real world setting. The reason for my interest is Conservation Biology is a multidiscipline that cope with not only several sciences on ecology, biology, statistics but also social sciences, economics, and management that involves human with diverse attitudes, beliefs, norms, and knowledge in learning and decision process. So, learning process in conservation could be either dualism, multiplicity, relativism, commitment to relativism or a combination of all of them.
    I have the idea that may be educational play and skit with props could be helpful to encourage learning when it deals with controversial issues. The rooms in STSS can be changed to public hearing place for learners and teachers to be acting like professor from university conservationists, governmental staff, investors, and local people who may be affected by the project discussing about the topic in concerns.

  9. Ques 1. Teaching is a class for credit/grade is entirely new for me, but I’ve given many presentations to professional and non-professional (lay) audiences. I try to convey research and data in a way that is clear, but I’m not sure how effective I have been at effective ‘learning.’ This will force me to think more about how I present information. I like the concept of teaching backward since it cuts to the core of what teaching is trying to accomplish. I am interested in learning how to implement active learning on more ‘stiff’ curricula in large class sizes when student participation is much more limited.

    Ques 2. Don’t be constrained by your curriculum. I’ve heard that the most effective teachers are those that can adapt their classroom activities to match students’ needs. This could entail spending more time on a particular subject that they are struggling to grasp or offering more time to review a series of subjects that were solid but were muddled in confusion with new information. It is helpful to know that a set curriculum can be adjusted as warranted. I will now think harder about the effectiveness of assignments and homework on learning.

  10. Question 2:

    I find the part about the classroom setting very informative. In particular, I have been thinking about Ilene’s narration that how we arrange students (re)shapes learning. In this regard, I was also interested in the notion of a “contact zone,” as the classroom setting can play a large role in generating these zones. The setting does not have to be static, however. The layout of the classroom that I am currently teaching in makes it difficult to create a circular arrangement, for instance. But I can make the students move a lot, and thus create more and more “contact zones.” In this way, the negative aspects of the setting can be turned into positive ones. For instance, I could, as a part of an activity, ask them to move to the front of the class, use the board to draw and write, and choose their side (to an issue or problem) by moving to the corners or center of the room. By arranging and rearranging students in many different ways, the classroom setting can become more inclusive, motivating, and constructive.

  11. 1. In congruence with the general belief that environment impact on people’s behavior, I think an individual’s teaching philosophy and style is influenced by what schools they attend. After attending three universities in completely different environments, I have difficulty identifying which teaching method was best for me. I think subtly collaborating with students to understand their needs and prepare my teaching plan to match their needs is paramount. This week’s readings have made me to rethink my previous teaching experience where the teacher was supposed to be knowledgeable beyond reproach. Seeing the classroom as a community of knowledge sharing helps to achieve substantial results. I like the idea of outcomes-based design, because, this approach helps students to make meaning of what they learn, whilst teachers align learning outcomes to their planned activities. My question is, is this approach effective at all levels of education?

    2. I find most of the ideas in the slides very new and interesting. I like the model that shows parts of the brain and their related functions. My question is, how does the outcome-based method work with a pure theory-based course? Because, most theories courses requires the teacher to explain the fundamental assumptions underlying such theories to students, with little chance for students to make inputs. I may be wrong though, but that is what I have observed from experience.

  12. 1. The laboratory analogy really resonated with me. There have been so many classes I’ve taken where the objective was just to check off regulated skill sets to teach in the course of a semester. While this approach of setting boundaries is beneficial to some extent, I feel that it could potentially stifle creativity in problem-solving. The backward design approach is similar to the scientific method, in that a problem is firstly identified with a goal in mind before hypothesizing different ways to achieve that goal. I would like to further discuss how to achieve this on a practical scale – that is, can this technique be effectively implemented for classes with over a hundred students? Does the teaching backward model break down if the class room size isn’t small, and individual attention is limited?

    2. Most of this was new to me. As a TA, I tried to imitate the best professors I had in college that taught effectively in demonstrating ideas and concepts. I suppose I am unfamiliar with many of the ideas around teaching and learning. Tim Morris’s talk on flipping was interesting and informative to me. It made a lot of sense. I would like to try the idea of using video lectures in the next course I TA, as I will be helping with recitations. Having more discussion time in recitation over cramming additional lecture notes will likely be incredibly valuable for long-term retainment.

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