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Sticky Learning and Teaching – Course Design with SUCCESS in Mind

16 Jul

I’ve heard from a number of colleagues working on designing new courses or revising existing ones that this would be a good time to re-post the series of write ups that address course design by making use of “backward” or aligned course design principles and SUCCESS based practices.  And, so, here is the post that provides links to a 7-part series making use of a “sticky” teaching and learning framework put forward by Dan and Chip Heath, with links to resources on aligned course design practices articulated by John Biggs and Catherine Tang, among others.

Just below, you’ll find an introduction to the series and a write up focusing on Simple – the first principle in the SUCCESS acronym.  At the end of the post you’ll find links to the six follow up posts and to further resources on backward/aligned course design principles.


What, exactly, is SUCCESS in teaching?

For me, whether I am teaching a history, literature, composition, women’s studies, american studies or Preparing Future Faculty courses, SUCCESS is achieved when the course both provokes and sustains more learning for more learners.

For etymologists parsing the Oxford English Dictionary, SUCCESS happens in the sequel; the termination (favourable or otherwise) of affairs; the issue, upshot, result.  It is something that happens over time, as part of a process, and emerges as the prosperous achievement of something attempted.

For  Dan and Chip Heath, brothers, academics and authors, SUCCESS in teaching involves six core principles – listed below – which we at the UMinn Center for Teaching and Learning propose lead to practices of Savvy Learning and Teaching:

Throughout February and March, the Techniques in Learning and Teaching blog will address the principles and practices of SUCCESS in teaching through a series of posts.  Each post will focus on one principle, setting out core components of that principle, offering select examples, culling a few follow up resources.  The writers of each post are CTL staff members who incorporate these ideas in on-campus workshops for instructors, and in seminars and courses on teaching in higher education.

First Principle – SIMPLE

As the opening words for descriptions of Simple, Dan and Chip Heath share this sentence: “Simplicity isn’t about dumbing down; it’s about prioritizing.”  It’s also about building generative analogies, key phrases, and remembering what it’s like to not know something.  What’s “in there” for us to consider as teachers in higher education settings – whether we are meeting on campus, online, in community settings?

Simple is about choosing. In news reporting it’s making determinations about the look of the front pages of each section, about what will be the day’s headline stories, and what will be the wording of lede paragraphs in stories at the top of each page.  In teaching, simple is about planning for learning and teaching through thoughtful course design, about mindfully determining student learning outcomes, and about  prioritizing the outcomes – what’s in and what’s out – in order to set a learning course for the semester.

Simple is about visualizing and enacting the complex process of course design, which – on its own is a rather simple schema, as you can see below:

The Intended Learning Outcomes – these are the lede of news articles, the principle concepts, content and concerns that readers, or for our purposes, students and colleagues, need to understand if the rest of the article, the course being taken, is to make sense and come to a successful resolution – a deepened understanding – when the reader, the student, reaches the end.

From the outcomes, the assessments and learning/teaching activities follow – or as the Heath brothers say it throughout their work on sticky teaching – we stage the learning across units, topics, days so that we build with our students the complex understandings needed for success in a particular course.

The assessments – like a good photograph – capture aspects of learning as it happens, allowing teachers to respond to learning as it happens, and inviting students to view the products of their learning alongside viewer’s/teacher’s comments as part of re-seeing, reflecting on the original shot, the original substance of the assessment.

The learning/teaching activities – like articles in a solid investigative journalism series – build each day, aim to interact with actual and diverse audiences while building new insights or sources of information over time.  The layering of assessments and intertwining with feedback/responses invites participation from the journalist/teacher and reader/student alike in building complex ideas.

Savvy Learning and Teaching – with Simple in Mind

For the purposes of designing courses, I see three core principles for the practice of Savvy Learning and Teaching with Simple in mind:

  1. Define learning – as a personal construct, as a principle guiding course design, as a practice to convey to students from day one.
  2. Enact mindful course design – as reflected in the visualization and analogy above, as a practice of organizing learning and teaching for the era we’re in, which is one in which we cannot ever again aim or hope to “cover the content” in a world that moves at paces that will require students to be able to uncover, co-create, invent the content every day of their lives.
  3. Consider multicultural learning and teaching as everyone’s everyday work – as part of living in a world requiring divergent thinking that welcomes dissent and creativity in order to take on the dense, complex, multi-pronged “wicked” problems of contemporary life, we need to understand the richly rigorous ways of thinking our many students bring to the classroom.

For the purposes of delivering courses, I see  three core principles for the practice of Savvy Learning and Teaching with Simple in mind:

  1. Be sure students see learning – as a core component of student outcomes reflected in your syllabus, as a process they will be expected to practice/engage throughout a course, and as something they record daily:  what I learned today, and that I learned today – simple notations of how learning happens each day is how students and their teachers will recognize learning at work.
  2. Be part of the learning – flip the classroom, as my K-12 colleagues say: have students do the reading, hear the lecture, complete the homework, collaborate with a peer and/or send an integrative question to you ahead of class so that when they are with you the class session begin with doing work together, begins with work at a next level of difficulty that you can all engage and discuss.
  3. Provide simple structures for learning – slide presentations that show thinking at work, lecture outlines that invite engagement, Twitter hashtags to facilitate sharing of resources, assignments that layer learning so that students build insights as they would do as practitioners in your field of study.


Links to the SUCCESS Series

  • SUCCESS in Teaching – An Introduction and a First Principle, Simple
  • Active Learning will not (in itself) lead to SUCCESS in Teaching – Part 2, Unexpected
  • Engineering Concrete Footings: Foundations for Sound Pedagogy – SUCCESS in Teaching, Part 3, Concrete
  • Incredible! – SUCCESS in Teaching, Part 4, Credible
  • Teaching with Emotion: Approaches Across the Disciplines – SUCCESS in Teaching, Part 5
  • Telling Stories – in Teaching, throughout Learning, for Education – SUCCESS in Teaching, Part 6
  •  The Practice: Savvy Learning and Teaching, Part 7 of SUCCESS in Teaching
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