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. 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 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. We are trying to insert library instruction into the school of business with more frequency due to the fact that it is not an uncommon occurrence to have a Junior Finance Major show up at the reference desk without a good understanding of the resources available to her or him. At the moment, I am engaged in mapping the business school curriculum (to be posted sometime soon in Thing 17) as we are already well represented in the English and Humanities by one of my colleagues.

    This assignment is a draft of something we could do for one of the four core courses that are required for all business majors, Macro and Micro Economics or, at a stretch, Financial or Managerial Accounting. As this is the beginning of the process it will most likely go through many versions.

    Providence College is run by Dominican Friars who use the Disputed Question as a framework for their educational philosophy. Providence College requires students to complete a two-year Development of Western Civilization curriculum and use mission driven core to examine their chosen discipline in a larger context. The fifth goal in the Mission Driven Goals for the Core Curriculum states: “In the Dominican pedagogical tradition of the disputed question, students and faculty should be trained in the art of anticipating difficult questions from alternative perspectives and the use of reasoned argumentation in search of a broader understanding of important truths.”

    With this in mind, I will address the “Research as Inquiry” Frame.

    Students will be able to use assigned resources
    In order to broaden or narrow their research topic as necessary.

    -experimentation with search terms
    -using more than one resource (database, catalog, search engine)
    -more than one revision of research topic

    For Thing 8: Research as Inquiry, I explored using Pass the Problem:

    and I have experimented using a semi jigsaw type exercise where I have students explore different databases and then instruct the rest of the class on how it works in direct correlation to an immediate assignment.

    What you will accomplish today:
    You will be able to find more information by using the resources provided to you by the library.

    How we will do this:

    We will break up into groups based on the number of students here. Each group will be assigned a different database. For 5-10 minutes you will explore as many features as possible and make sure everyone in the group can show the rest of the class how it works and any special features. Remember to think about the questions we covered at the start of class to get you started. If you need more time please let us know.

    At the end of this discovery time you will share what you learned with the rest of the class. If you miss any important features or skills we will be sure to ask questions to help you find them and then share them with your classmates.

    (I tried to post a chart here and it didn’t work. It had columns with:
    -Useful features
    -How to use with this project
    -How to use for other projects
    And appropriate databases as the rows below.)

    A combination of filling out this chart and then having the groups trade assigned databases in a “pass the problem” manner to find out if the first group missed anything or misunderstood a feature. The goal of this will be to show the students that there are many layers to resources at the library and that they may be able to deepen, broaden, or narrow their topic in effective ways. The skills covered in this class (maybe even two classes) will be immediately transferable to other research projects.


  2. 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.


  3. 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.



Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s