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. Learning Outcome – Using the Frame Authority is Constructed and Contextual I would like for the students to use the CRAAP test to evaluate resources.

    Using UbD as a guide, I would want the students to be able to discuss (interpret) elements of an article via the CRAAP test with their classmates, and to adjust their thinking (apply) to discover other articles on their topic.

    I would have students who are researching the same topics partner, search for and review articles and use the CRAAP test to compare and contrast the articles, and share the results with the class.


  2. 1. Learning Outcome: As a result of this lesson, students will be able to correctly format a reference citation for a journal article from a database in APA style.

    2. Students will demonstrate competency of this outcome by EXPLAINING how to correctly format the citation. Students will also show understanding of the outcome by APPLYING what they learned about correctly formatting an APA citation for a peer-reviewed article to another kind of source.

    3. An activity to support students’ ability to explain the concept is to teach it to a classmate. Once the students have practiced creating accurate APA citations on their own, they can explain to another student how to do it. An activity to support students’ ability to apply the lesson learned would be to have them take a brief quiz asking them to link the knowledge they have acquired about citing a journal article and applying it to create an accurate citation for another kind of source, like an ebook.


  3. Learning Outcome: Students will be able to evaluate media sources and stories in order to strategically explore the origin and value of a source.

    Students could demonstrate this outcome by being able to take a media outlet or story and analyze it to determine its appropriateness for various uses, from academic work to sharing on social media. Students should also be able to explain the measures they used in their analysis, including such things as the outlet’s ethics statement, qualifications of authors, etc.

    Students could make a media chart, similar to the one available at, setting a list of media outlets on the chart. Students could then be asked to write a short paper explaining why they set each outlet where they did on the chart. A follow up in class activity could then allow students to discuss their rationale and debate areas where they disagreed.


  4. 1. Learning Outcome: using the frame Searching as Strategic Exploration, students will be able to choose an appropriate tool/database for their research topic.
    2. Evidence of learning: annotated bibliography that includes where, why, and how they found each research source. This would be Wiggins and first facet of explaining concepts, principles, and processes by putting it in their own words.
    3. Activity: using RefWorks to organize their findings, this would use Searching as Strategic Exploration in managing searching processes and results effectively.

    As we are working this summer in the educational doctorate courses, I have found many students lacking an understanding in why and how to use the databases, using a more generalized search and tools. Using the correct database is something gained with practice but can also be taught by demonstration. To be sure they have had enough practice to put this skill into use, an annotated bibliography of a current assignment can be one of the activities. This can provide us with information about how effective their searches are and allow us to come alongside to refine their searching starting point.

    Using RefWorks is an excellent way to organize citations and create bibliographies but this tool can also help with annotating citations and adding the full text to each record. If this can be learned early in the program, a great deal of time and effort in managing their research could be gained. By combining these exercises it will give them a much firmer set of tools for upcoming coursework. A folder can be shared with a librarian so work can be observed and checked, a great feature of RefWorks that can be used as an assessment tool.

    Although I’m not sure about which process is addressed in the above activity, I like to think they would be making meaning while they decide on the best database or resource tool. Associating their research question with sources to help them answer their question seems to be part of a thoughtful process in understanding the available tools.


  5. We just transitioned from a traditional library to a Learning Commons model. This required us to refocus our mission and program outcomes on delivering instruction aimed at helping students develop the habits of mind to be a life long learner. One of those outcomes was teaching students how to develop an array of approaches to solve diverse problems. The performance criteria/learning outcomes would be:

    1) a post workshop reflection response will identify at least one learning related problem.
    2) a post workshop reflection response will identify at least two strategies/approaches to solve the problem
    3) a post workshop reflection response will identify the appropriate solution to the problem.

    The UBD interrelated learning goals for this scenario would be to construct meaning and transfer learning to new situations.


  6. Frame referenced: Authority is Constructed and Contextual

    Students should understand that they bring their own biases and experiences into the research process, which may affect their search results.

    Students will create search statements, based on prior knowledge, and evaluate the results of their search. They will be able to describe how they determined if an article is relevant to their research needs. They can justify their reasoning by comparing the article to other sources gathered during the process, and by creating an annotated bibliography. Students will demonstrate new knowledge by discussing insights gathered throughout the research process.

    Students will watch a short video on how their views may affect the search terms that they use and the resulting outcome.

    A discussion of how to be more subjective, in a small group setting, could then occur, before a larger discussion is conducted.

    Searching the same database with these new search terms, students could then compare the new results with the original results.

    Students should become more aware of how their biases affect the research process, and how to adjust when necessary. They will be encouraged to feel comfortable asking a librarian for help.


  7. I’m in the midst of redesigning our one-shot library instruction for the fall semester.

    The Frames being used with this instruction are – “Authority is constructed and contextual” and “Information has value.”

    Two SLOs attached to the instruction are –
    1. Students will be able to apply appropriate citation conventions, demonstrating knowledge of basic intellectual property concepts and ethics.
    2. The student will be able to competently/confidently evaluate sources for their topic by using one (or more) of the evaluation models discussed and practiced during the library orientation.

    Individual and group think/participation will be the primary classroom activities during the one-shot, as students engage by suggesting topics and keywords for searches, identity what does/does not qualify as fair use, what is/is not a complete citation, etc.

    Learning measurement will be done by a paper assessment with self-reporting questions, ex.
    Question 1.
    If your search terms do not produce the articles you want from the databases, what is your next move?
    Take my search to Google
    Visit the library and talk with a librarian
    Give up
    Talk with my professor

    Question 2.
    If you have identified your topic, what would be the best evaluation model for your sources?

    Question 3.
    If someone wrote an autobiography of your life, your original 140-character tweets would be –
    Primary sources
    Secondary sources
    Tertiary sources

    The assessment contains roughly 10 questions, but these 3 are examples of the type of self-reporting that the students will be asked to do. For questions 1 and 2, there are no right/wrong responses. I want the students to respond from their point of understanding and need.


  8. 1. Learning outcome: Students should be able to assess if a resource is reliable and usable for their assignment.
    2. Evidence: Students will explain what makes a chosen resource reliable for their assignment. They will then find new resources and apply their criteria to the new resource to see if it is reliable.
    3. Activities: Some activities that would help here are analyzing example resources in a group setting—bouncing ideas off each other, determining the reliability, etc. This would help with transfer and meaning making. For acquisition, the instructor would explain what makes a resource reliable and the nuances of this.


  9. Students will leave the classroom understanding where to search for information depending on that specific information need.

    Evidence of Learning

    Students will be able to explain to highlight the pros and cons of selecting certain library databases or search engines for finding information.

    Students will choose information sources beneficial to their information needs or assignments.


    Students will be split up into groups and be given a topic. Each group will be assigned a database or search engine. They will use database tools to discover what publications are covered by the database, if the databases have a specific focus, the ease of searching in the database (or search engine). They will then present their findings to the class.

    In a class discussion, we’ll examine other topics and discuss the pros and cons of using some databases or search engines available to them for that specific topic. We’ll also discuss the benefits of looking for information from unlikely sources.


  10. 1. Learning outcome: Students leave the library information session with articles and books that are relevant to their research topic and meet the academic standards of the assignment.

    2. If one of the academic standards is that students use peer-reviewed articles, then students demonstrate their understanding of this by utilizing the facets while searching in databases so that their search results only show peer-reviewed articles. If students need primary sources, then they have searched newspapers and other databases that provide access to these types of sources. In addition to electronic journal articles, students also have used WorldCat Discovery to find books related to their topic.

    3. Learning activities include demonstrating to the whole class: how to use WorldCat Discovery to search for books, how use the college’s research guides to find the most relevant databases for their respective assignments, and how changing search terms provides different results. Other learning activities include providing students ample time to start a search, answering their questions as they come up, and after they have worked independently for a bit, ask them individually if they have any questions and/or to explain where they are their search to see if they comprehend the process.


  11. 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.


  12. 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.


  13. 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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