How I learned to stop worrying and love the objectives

Justin Wright participated in the CIT Biology Faculty Fellowship over this past year to design and prepare to teach Bio 112, Ecology for a Small Planet. He described what he learned from other faculty in the fellowship, and how this will inform his teaching.

Justin Wright participated in the CIT Biology Faculty Fellowship over this past year to design and prepare to teach Bio 112, Ecology for a Small Planet. He contributed to planning activities for the course for spring 2011, and will be teaching it himself in the fall.

He found that meeting with other faculty to discuss course planning and to revise several courses helped him think through his own teaching:

I think there were two key elements that were most important for me to take away from the Faculty Fellowship.

The first was the elements of backwards course design. While I had previously had course objectives, they were always a bit of an afterthought and I had never put much effort into ensuring that there was any alignment between objectives and activities/assessment. I have found that while backwards design is important for the overall course design, it has been a real game changer when it comes to designing individual course activities. Thinking about what the key points you want the students to take home before sketching out what will be covered has completely altered the way I think about approaching the material. Previously, I had been focused on coming up with good examples that covered the range of topics that I felt should be covered, but now I’m much more focused on covering a few key concepts and making sure that the examples are directly tied to the concepts.

That leads to the second key development for me. The recognition that in an active learning environment, learning is not an exclusively top-down process and that students can be made responsible for learning the content on their own has opened up a lot of possibilities in the classroom. Knowing that the students can be expected to come to class having read the material and that I don’t have to lecture about everything has really cut down on the stress of all those activities taking up “too much time.” I’m comfortable with not having to cover “everything” now because I know that a) even if I had covered everything, the students wouldn’t have retained a good portion of it and b) the use of backwards course design ensures that I am spending my classroom time focusing on the concepts and content that I feel are most critical.

Read more about the faculty who participated in the CIT Biology Faculty Fellowship and the redesigned courses: from Fall Bio 101 and 102 and Spring Bio 102.

Andrea Novicki

Author: Andrea Novicki

Andrea helps faculty teach effectively and efficiently. She works primarily with scientists, using her biology background, love of science and teaching experience. Her current enthusiasms include active learning, group learning (especially team-based learning) and assessment.