As I sat down to make my course schedule for Research Methods, I was surprised at how easily I reverted to I-must-cover-all-of-this-content thinking. I’ve spent weeks creating learner-centered goals, assignments, and activities and realizing that my course is more about developing a skill than content knowledge. As soon as I tried to piece together the course on a class-by-class level, however, I found it difficult to think about anything except the content. I blocked off the last few weeks of the semester for presentations and feedback, and I let myself get caught up in dividing content among class periods.
In order to switch from a content-centered approach to a learner-centered approach, I used my course goals and assessments to help me cut back on the unnecessary content. This process of cutting back required tremendous faith in my course goals.As I erased seemingly important topics from the schedule, I had to believe that the goal-oriented activities that replaced them were more important. For me, creating the course schedule was the most difficult step of course design because I finally had to pay for learner-centered activities by removing content.
If I hadn’t used the backwards design process, and I instead created my course goals after making the schedule, then I think that the course would have been less focused. I would have shied away from drastically cutting the content and instead made more knowledge-oriented goals. However, because I decided beforehand that the point of this class is to apply knowledge just as much as to learn knowledge, I was able to make the tough calls. The backwards design process forced me to tie everything back to active learning. I asked myself repeatedly, “What should students be able to do with this content?” and if the answer wasn’t obvious or didn’t relate to the learning goals, then the content wasn’t relevant enough to keep.
For more information about the course design series or more course design posts, visit the course design series introduction.