Apply Backward Design to Blended Learning Tools

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Yesterday, Mary Seward’s post mentioned Grant Wiggin’s  and Jay McTighe’s model for curriculum design, called Understanding by Design. She concluded, “Sometimes the Understanding by Design model can be challenging – but it yields high quality results.” Ironically, today I saw this post by Kristin Swanson in SmartBlog on Education, about “technology integration by design.” Hmmmm… I read Understanding by Design about 7 or 8 years ago. It just struck me as interesting to hear it twice in as many days after not really thinking about it for so long. It was great to see these fresh points of view. I want to share some more of Swanson’s ideas about how to apply backward design to some of your blended learning tools.

What I remember about this model for curriculum design is that it is fairly simple concept, but as Seward suggested, a challenging practice. In the simplest terms, understanding by design promotes starting with the end results or outcomes that you wish to achieve. Then work backwards from those outcomes, developing assessments and curriculum that will lead to the desired end. It’s all very logical. We’ve used this method of curriculum and instructional design at AES for many years with great results, particularly in our very standards/outcomes-focused world of education.

What I like about Swanson’s post is her application of the Understanding by Design model with technology use. As she describes, Understanding by Design “is also the perfect methodology for planning a new technology initiative.”

Swanson’s three basic steps for technology integration

I’ll simply list the steps here. Please see Swanson’s post for the detailed “how-to’s.”

Step 1: Define the goals of your technology initiative using desired outcomes, not tools.

Step 2: Carefully describe the types of evidence that will exist when the goals are met.

Step 3: Identify the devices, formats (carts, BYOD, 1:1, etc.), apps and actions that will generate the evidence required by your goals.

“Strong goals, not a device” will grow your effectiveness

If you don’t read her entire post, I want to make sure you get Swanson’s closing thoughts: “Technology integration must be designed to foster specific learning outcomes in a deliberate and thoughtful way. You’ll grow from strong goals, not a device.” So very true! Teachers need to remember that there are no tools that can replace their value and importance. Technology is fantastic tool for maximizing your effectiveness; not minimalizing it!

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