thing 13: Understanding by Design®


Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2014). Improve Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction Using the Understanding by Design® Framework.


Understanding by Design (UbD), developed by Wiggins and McTighe, is one of the Framework’s primary theoretical influences. The UbD Framework includes a three-step backwards design process intended to help educators plan instruction in a way that supports student understanding and transfer of knowledge. In this thing, we’ll walk practice applying the Understanding by Design framework.

1. Think about an upcoming teaching scenario. Based on what you’d like students to learn as a result of the experience, identify one learning outcome to represent your desired results. This could be an outcome you’ve already developed, or an outcome you create as part of Assessment Thing #2.

2. How could students demonstrate to you that they’ve met this outcome? Brainstorm 2-3 types of evidence that you help you see what students have learned. Refer to Wiggins and McTighe’s “Six Facets of Understanding” (page 5) for inspiration.
3. Once you’ve identified evidence/artifacts that would help you evaluate students’ progress, consider what kinds of activities, resources, or learning experiences would support students in their learning and produce the evidence you’re looking for. Describe 2-3 possible learning activities that would prepare students to create the evidence of student learning you listed in step 2.

Optional step for overachievers: Wiggins and McTighe suggest that learning experiences and instruction can address transfer, meaning making, or knowledge acquisition (page 6). Which of these components do your proposed learning experiences address?


  1. Since my students are often asked to find scholarly articles, I would want students to distinguish popular magazines from trade publications from scholarly journals. Beyond that I’d like students to use each type appropriately. Doing so brings up the essential questions of how each source type serves its respective purpose/audience, and what that purpose/audience is in the first place.

    Students could demonstrate their understanding by verbalizing their thought processes as they look at search results. They could also do an annotated bibliography with the annotations emphasizing the source type and intended audience.

    Learning activities could include an initial exercise where learners engage with examples of each source type. Many libraries have created quality videos about the information cycle, which puts the source types in context: Such a video might be a good pre-activity. These don’t count the usual database demo and hands-on practice. For this thing I’m focusing more on what they need to find, rather than how they find it.

    The focus in more on skill acquisition and meaning making. For real transfer the students would need repeated exposure and exposure to a greater variety of examples. They would also need feedback on the sources they find. The subject faculty would come in handy here, as I rarely get more than a one-shot (the exception being a course where I am embedded and offer feedback on early drafts). The Framework could help me have these conversations with faculty.


  2. Outcome: Students will be able to articulate connections between some certain aspects of the publication cycle and their specific research needs.

    Evidence of Learning:

    (1) Students will be asked open ended questions about the Boston Marathon Bombing. They can find answers to these questions through Internet searches on the keywords within the prompts.

    (2) One question explicitly asks about publication dates for books, and another questions asks students to analyze Google Scholar results by asking them a scenario-based question and giving them the tools to do it.


    I was inspired by the use of forms to create an asynchronous learning activity on the open web (vs within a CMS/ LMS or behind a sign-in screen) and the frame-by-frame (really, concept-by-concept) videos that Oklahoma State University designed (found on the ACRL Sandbox). See this libguide page for the activity:

    I like hands-on, practical lessons that require students to experience IL in real situations that they find themselves in; and then redirecting them to the objective. I thought that using a real event – and the Boston Marathon Bombing gets used a lot in ILI – and then asking students to essentially recreate the searches themselves with prompts to be skeptical about the information type, creation process, and publication time.

    I don’t really have another activity apart from a F2F version of the lesson that’s embedded (atop the form) from University of Nevada Las Vegas and then having students fill out the form in class so we can discuss the answers.



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