Bb World 2011 — Pedagogy and Online Learning: Training Users in Backwards Design


John Doherty — Instructional Designer, Northern Arizona University
Wally Nolan — Lead Instructional Designer, Northern Arizona University

Both presenters started out by stating that online learning should be all about the pedagogy and not about the technology. In other words, instructors should not become so enamored of one particular technology that they forget to apply sound pedagogical principles when presenting content and engaging their students.

Like Missouri S&T, everyone at Northern Arizona University (NAU) is given a Blackboard course every semester. However, not everyone uses them equally well (again, like Missouri S&T).

John and Wally have encouraged faculty to use more Blackboard resources
by integrating their course materials online with the campus library
resources, which can easily be included in a Blackboard course.
Blackboard can easily link to outside web resources, so instructors who
want to link to the S&T library resources can also do so.

presenters showed a simple Venn diagram illustrating the intersection
of the social, teaching, and cognitive presences, where learning takes
place. For real learning to take place, you need to have all three
factors available. Another way to interpret this is that learning is
best when there is student-student (social) interaction,
student-instructor (teacher) interaction, and student-content
(cognitive) interaction.

Backwards design, the real focus of their presentation, is a fairly
simple concept to understand, yet seems so counter-intuitive sometimes:

  1. Identify the desired results — Figure out the desired learning outcomes for the concepts in the course.
  2. Determine acceptable evidence — How will the students demonstrate mastery of the material?
  3. Plan learning experiences and instruction — These are the guideposts down the path towards achieving the learning outcomes.

Yes, as with most projects, designing a quality online learning
experience will take a great deal of effort, planning, and preparation,
but the payoff is almost always worth it. Students will get more benefit
if they know what the learning outcomes should be and are able to
substantially work towards accomplishing that goal.

To help instructors in backwards course design, John and Wally developed a series of online tutorials:

  1. Creating Learning Expectations
  2. Assessing Student Learning
  3. Creating a Learning Activity

By using these web sites, instructors can get a good feel for the
process of backwards course design. EdTech will undoubtedly provide our
own tutorials in our CyberEd course in the not-too-distant future (I

To sum up: every action in a class should tie directly to the learning
objectives for the course. The only role technology serves is as a
“force multiplier”, allowing instructors to reach more students in
diverse environments, expanding the options for quality content, and
enabling instructors to meet the individual learning needs of each
student most efficiently.