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Beyond Coverage: Backward Design for Disciplinary Thinking

How do we ever find time to teach students how to think when there is so much information they need to know? It’s a common conundrum in entry-level general education courses that cover a wide swath of disciplinary material.

Maybe the answer to better student learning is to start from your desired destination and work backward. In other words, stop trying to cover all that content and start focusing on the kind of thinking you really want to see in your students. That’s the idea behind Beyond Coverage: Backward Design for Disciplinary Thinking.

Applying Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’s concept of “backward design” to general education courses shifts course design from disciplinary content to disciplinary thinking. Content becomes a raw material, a tool for exploring the key ways of constructing knowledge that constitute disciplinary modes of thinking, rather than an end in itself. Assessments then focus on applying course content to authentic questions and problems within the discipline. Students will apply their knowledge, not just memorize it, and instructors will know whether students have mastered disciplinary concepts.

Watch a brief clip from the seminar

Learning goals
Explore this revolutionary approach to general education instruction in Beyond Coverage: Backward Design for Disciplinary Thinking, a 60-minute Magna Online Seminar.

This seminar explains how to:

  • Use a backward design process to develop or revise a course
  • Identify ways of thinking and constructing knowledge that are appropriate for a disciplinary general education course
  • Refocus course design—including classroom activities, assignments, and assessments—on disciplinary thinking rather than on coverage

There really isn’t anything backward about backward design. In fact, it is a powerful tool that can help you clarify your learning goals, bring your assignments and exams into alignment with these goals, and better use classroom activities to cultivate the student learning that you value most.

Going beyond coverage
Your presenters for this seminar are David Voelker, Ph.D., an associate professor of humanistic studies and history at the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay, and Joel Sipress, Ph.D., a professor of history and chair of the interdisciplinary Department of Social Inquiry at the University of Wisconsin–Superior. Their essay “The End of the History Survey Course: The Rise and Fall of the Coverage Model,” which appeared in the March 2011 issue of the Journal of American History, won the 2012 Maryellen Weimer Scholarly Work on Teaching and Learning Award.

During the seminar, Voelker and Sipress not only explore what backward design is but use case studies to show how it transforms courses and improves student learning. Participants get to walk through the backward design process to see how resetting learning goals and modifying in-class activities and assessments can enable them to push beyond content and into disciplinary thinking—regardless of the discipline.

Beyond Coverage: Backward Design for Disciplinary Thinking also includes an outline of the backward design process and a set of self-assessment questions to help faculty evaluate current backward design strategies, teach disciplinary thinking, and align classroom activities, assessments, and learning goals.

Voelker and Sipress also share a sample learning goals matrix, classroom activities, and assessments, all of which are geared toward promoting disciplinary thinking.

Who will benefit
These are issues salient to any undergraduate higher education setting where students must meet general education requirements. Those who will benefit from participating in this seminar include:

  • Instructors
  • Instructional designers
  • Department heads
  • Anyone concerned with improving student learning

This seminar is now available on-demand or on CD. Whichever format you choose, you’ll also receive the complete transcript and all supplemental materials.

An optional Campus Access License is available for an additional $200. It allows the purchasing institution to upload the CD of the seminar onto the institution’s password-protected internal website for unlimited access by the entire campus community.

Order today
You don’t have to get through all the content before you can start teaching disciplinary thinking. Backward design takes you straight where you want to go with student learning. Order Beyond Coverage: Backward Design for Disciplinary Thinking today and learn how to put it to work in your courses.


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