Cliff Backward Design

(The FASEB Journal.2012;26:720.3)

Backward design helps faculty develop case studies

William Cliff
Niagara University, Lewiston, NY

During instructional design, teachers often plan learning activities that fail to align with desired student learning outcomes and assessment. This investigation examined the approach taken by science faculty when developing a case study about embryonic sex determination. Faculty participants in a case study workshop used the backward design method of Wiggins and McTighe to establish learning outcomes, acceptable evidence for learning, and a plan for learning activities. Participants worked in groups of three or four to complete a case design template that was collected and analyzed. When asked to select the three most suitable student learning outcomes for the case from Wiggins and McTighe’s six facets of understanding, participants chose perspective (18/22 groups), engagement (13/22), explanation (11/22), interpretation (11/22), application (8/22) and self-knowledge (4/22). The preference for perspective suggests that faculty recognized that critical analysis is an important facet of understanding for a case requiring nuanced judgments about science, technology and ethics. When given a choice of approaches for assessing student learning, participants most often selected performance tasks to assess student perspective; quiz or test questions to assess student explanation or interpretation; and observation or dialogue to assess student engagement. These selections indicate that faculty were generally able to match appropriate forms of assessment to desired student learning outcomes. This investigation shows that, contrary to ordinary practice, backward design can help faculty choose learning outcomes and assessment methods that are suitably aligned with the understanding called for by a case study.

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