As often as possible, I'd like to codesign my classes with the students who take them. Here's my best shot at a written procedure, based on things I've done haphazardly in the past. I've never written it down and tried to deliberately improve the process, so this post is less a "done and tested, known to work" process and more a "first draft benchmark to improve from" one.

This post was inspired by recent emails on the POD mailing list by Leli Pedro and Tim Spannaus, Designing Significant Learning Experiences by Fink, Understanding by Design by Wiggins and McTighe, and Karl Smith and Ruth Streveler's excellent class "Content, Assessment, and Pedagogy" with some memory help from Todd Fernandez.

Step 0: Prep the class to expect the process. This isn't normal procedure, so I can't expect students to walk in knowing what to do. I'm the type of person who thinks on my feet, but need to be sensitive to the fact that some students need advance prep time in order to think effectively. Some might want to ask classmates who've taken the class before, some might want to email/chat with me beforehand, and some might not do any prep at all... and these are all perfectly fine options.

I would send them a heads-up on the process we'll be using (possibly linking to this blog post), and send brainstorm-seeding material beforehand: sample syllabi, textbook tables of contents, feedback from course alumni, etc. I'd also have this material available during the first class.

Step 1: Brainstorm learning objectives/outcomes as a class. These will come in several different shapes and sizes -- lists of topics, Bloom's Taxonomy objectives (in all 3 domains), small skills they'd like to pick up, larger concepts they should be generally familiar with, enduring understandings ("what do you want to take away 3-5 years from now?"). I don't yet have a coherent taxonomy of learning goals that I would like to use -- which is a known bug in my "codesign my class!" protocol that I would like to tackle with... whoever wants to tackle it with me. (Maybe even my first class.)

This in-class brainstorm will probably start with quiet solo writing, then gradually move into bigger (and louder) group discussion. Sticky notes will probably be involved. The variety of brainstorm formats is important. Quiet people should be able to contribute, reflective people need time to think, and I want to give people as many chances and formats and mediums as possible to have a voice, since not everyone's voice is equally comfortable in every space.

Step 2:  Converge on learning outcomes via some collaborative process. There'll probably be discussion via some sort of participation architecture (not "who can interrupt fastest and loudest?" because that would make my interpreter sad). If we can't converge via discussion, we might use excellence voting to help the process along.

As the instructor, I reserve the final say on vetoing/adding things to this list, but I would expect that this power would be used rarely, if ever at all.

Step 3: Repeat steps #1 and #2 for assessments. How do you want to be graded? Who do you want to get feedback from? At this point, it's important for us to distinguish between formative feedback (during the learning process) from summative feedback (after a particular semi-arbitrary phase in the learning process, such as the submission of a deliverable -- since the learning process itself never truly ends). It's also important to recognize that the people giving you feedback don't need to be the same people giving you grades.

I will probably come in with some ideas for this, but I'd like to let the class bring in their own thoughts and modify mine, so we can all come up with better ideas together. Again, I get final say, but should rarely have to use it if the process is truly collaborative.

Step 4: Repeat steps #1 and #2 for pedagogy -- in other words, activities to facilitate their learning process, where "facilitate" means "make you better able to successfully complete the assessments we agreed upon." Similarly to step #3, I'll probably come in with some ideas, but everything is open to discussion (with me having the final say).

Step 5: Reflect on the process. We will likely have taken more than one class period to do this. We may even need more than one class period for this step alone. That is perfectly okay with me.

In order to help design a class, you have to learn your way into the world the class is trying to teach you. Through the process of codesigning the class, we've mapped a specific trail through a territory that the students now have a broad sense of. Students who entered with no prior experience are now equipped with a big-picture view they've made themselves. Students who want to know the exact sequence of course events have now helped to design them. Students who didn't know why they should care about the topic have been able to put things that they are excited about hooking the learning into.

And I have the satisfaction of knowing that...

  1. I don't need to sweat about designing everything perfectly for unknown constraints ahead of time. (Or making sure my syllabus document is perfectly formatted ahead of time... which I use as an excuse to procrastinate far more than I'd like to admit.)
  2. The individual needs, preferences, and constraints of each student and instructor will be designed into the class by default, so it's not about doing "special things" to make sure that the deaf professor (me) can understand, or the religious TA doesn't have to work around a major holiday, or the student going to a conference doesn't have to drag a massive tome of reading with her, or so forth. It's not extra work to change a prebaked class; we'd weave that into the way things are right from the start.
  3. I will get very few questions and arguments about the syllabus, grading, points... this may sound trivial, but if you've ever had students clamor for higher grades-- it's not.
  4. I'll never teach the same class twice, so I'll never be bored.
  5. My students start the term knowing that I'm not an Almighty Deity to be placated, and they're not "open head, insert information" buckets to be filled, but rather they are junior partners in exploring whatever topic we're about to delve deeper into, and I'm just someone who has... improvised here longer.
  6. I get to do design thinking with my students in every class I ever teach, even if my class "isn't a design class." Awesome.