Follow Up on Backward Design Curriculum

In my engineering education class, we have been studying the principles of backward design of curriculum. Mostly what I’m noticing is that I know *very few* professors who actually take this approach to teaching. It is against our instincts to consider the learning objectives first, then the assessments used to measure a student’s learning, and finally to develop the actual curriculum last. But as I’m trying the process for myself, I’m seeing the huge benefits of this approach. It makes me wonder if there are professional development opportunities for professors at MSU about backward design, and if people actually attend them and employ the skills they learn. I know that most syllabi (if not all) at MSU have learning objectives listed, but does the course actually convey those objectives to the students? Do the students walk away with the skills they are supposed to?

My project this semester looks into CSE 331: Algorithms and Data Structures at MSU, to see if students are actually understanding the big idea of problem solving. Most importantly, I want to measure how effectively they can transfer their algorithms knowledge to new situations, because that is what engineering careers will expect of them.

To this post, I have attached Stage 1 of my backward design project: proj01_v2. The paper defines the learning objectives for a standard algorithms course, surveys whether or not students across the board are learning these skills (hint: they are not), studies why algorithms education is difficult for students to understand fully, and discusses the existing curriculum for algorithms at MSU. The next two stages of the project will develop assessments specifically targeted to measure a student’s learning transfer and finally propose a course module which is (I hope) an improvement on traditional algorithms curriculum.

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