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ABC Learning Design: Workshop at UCL

Emilie Poletto-Lawson is an educational developer (based in Academic Staff Development) and a BILT Fellow working on the BILT theme of inclusive assessment. 

If you are at the stage of reviewing how the year went or planning next years teaching, the ABC Learning Design  approach might be for you.

This blog post will share how the ABC Learning Design method works. A second blog post will share how colleagues at other institutions are already using the approach.

An only slightly delayed train journey got me right on time to start a workshop on the ABC Learning Design kit designed by Clive Young and Nataša Perović at University College London. No time to sit back, our two hosts, full of energy, guided us through a 90-minute session in just an hour. Clive and Nataša ran through the different steps of the process at the speed of light to ensure we would have time to try it out. Each table chose a programme lead wanting to design or review their course and off we all went!

First step

The first step of the method is to complete the “Tweet and Shape” document.

This is a photo of the ‘Tweet and Shape’ document described below.

You start with completing information regarding your programme. Your first challenge is to fit the description of your module/unit in the size of a tweet (140 characters). Your students should be able to understand what your module is about by just reading this and ideally wanting to sign up for the course if it is optional. This was the hardest part for our group!

You then reflect on where you are/want to be when it comes to the different learning activities. To help you, you can look at the cards, on the front, there is an explanation of what the type means and, on the back, examples of activities. It is worth noting that the activities are listed according to their digital or non-digital nature supporting your reflexion about developing a blended approach.

This is a photo of an example of the cards found in the kit as described below.

Finally, you need to reflect on how blended your course is/will be. How much is taking place online and how much face-to-face. You then put this aside and look at your course week by week and populate it with the different learning types activity cards. For example: week 1 could be Acquisition followed by Discussion; week 2 could be Investigation, Collaboration, Production and so on and so forth.

This is a photo showing the different cards lined up to represent the content of week 1 and week 2 as described above.

Once you are happy with the shape of your weeks, you can turn the cards over and look more precisely at the types of activities you would do. You then tick the relevant box(es) and you can also add your own.

This is a photo showing the different cards lined up on the other side, listing types of learning activities.

Nothing is set in stone for your redesign and you can make as many changes as you see fit.

Last step

Your last step for the design is to think of assessment. Do you have any formative assessments? If so, you can stick a silver star next to the ticked box. You will do the same with summative assessment, but the star will be gold. At this stage it is worth taking a step back to reflect on the student’s experience. What is the timing like? Will they have other assessments at the same time as yours? Will they have enough time to use feedback to improve if you have formative assessments built in your course? Are the activities and assessments aligning with your learning outcomes?

Once you have done all this, you go back to your “Tweet and Shape” that you completed in red originally and go through all the steps again with a blue pen to identify which changes, if any, you have made.

Optional step

Clive and Nataša added another stage which we did not have time to do in the workshop but that I find extremely valuable. During that last stage you could use more stickers to identify when the different learning outcomes are being achieved throughout the weeks. They also suggested identifying how your module/unit fits in with the university education strategy.

Conclusion

To me, this approach is extremely valuable as it gives you a very practical tool to design/review your unit/module/programme making sure you include activities that will be varied and encompass the different learning types that are key to students’ success. It is also a good way to reflect on the place of assessment on your course and more generally on your programme.

I can see real value in using the ABC learning design method with your colleagues during an away day to gain an overview of what your students experience is throughout the different modules they attend. A nice way of getting that overview, as suggested by our facilitators, is for colleagues to “promenade” in the room looking at all the designs. I also believe it would go extremely well with the TESTA project.

Many thanks to Clive Young and Nataša Perović for sharing the ABC learning design and providing a kit to take home. It was a very insightful workshop and I look forward to trying the kit out.