Documentation:Course Design Intensive/Vantage

From UBC Wiki


Preparation before Day 1
  • Read:
  • Review/Download:
Working Docs: these will be referred to during the day, but used independently, following the session:
Reference Docs: these will assist you in developing your understanding of these central aspects of the course design model we use in the CDI. These aspects will be introduced and worked with in the afternoon:

Plan for the Day

Session Overview and Agenda


9:00 am - noon


  • us and you
  • our intentions for the day
  • how you can use the wiki (reference & discussion)

Pre-work review

Discuss your perspectives on what you learned from the pre-work. As a table group, identify one comment and one question from your discussion. Post to the collection for follow up during wrap up.

Empathy Mapping

Purpose: to activate your knowledge of your learners and gain further insight into their motivations and needs by detailing personas and mapping inferences about their lives.

Empathy Mapping: Part 1

35 minutes: 20 minutes to develop. 10 to discuss. 5 to share. In groups of 3, develop a persona to work with (based on what you know about your learners) and use that as a basis for developing your empathy map.

  • first - agree on a persona - name, situation (background/country/family), intentions (study). This can be a composite character or based on an individual.
  • next - fill in the empathy map in as much detail as possible (hint:detail is where the insights lay)

After filling out the empathy map in as much detail as possible, discuss:

  • What are the insights that emerge as you look at your empathy map?
  • What are the problems/ needs that your learner needs to address (learner's perspective)?

Make a few notes on these questions to come back to later in the morning.


BREAK: 10 mins

Empathy Mapping: Part 2

30 minutes: 20 minutes to revisit as a group. 10 minutes for gallery walk and debrief. Reconnect with your mapping group. Consider each of the 3 human core ideas related to learner centeredness: belonging, relevance and diversity of experience.

  • examine your map for all behaviors associated with the need to belong. Identify these with a sticky note.
  • examine your map for all behaviors associated with the need for relevance. Identify these with a sticky note.
  • examine your map for all behaviors associated with needs around diversity of experience. Identify these with a sticky note.
  • add any insights that emerge out of your associations on a separate note
  • POST your map for gallery walk.

Gallery walk and discuss':

  • What do you observe?
  • What might be some implications for the design of your course?

Your Student in the Future

Purpose: to identify your intentions for supporting student learning.

Bridge In Visioning Activity

5 minutes.

Imagine it is two years from now and you've run into one of your students who had taken your class this year. They are telling you that the most important thing they learned in your class was X.

What do you hope the X is? Try to give an immediate response. Think about the ideal qualities, attitudes, beliefs, knowledge, skills that your student of the future might possess. Write this down.



Why We Need A Why

Purpose: to offer a bridge between learner centered approach and an afternoon of "big" thinking about your course.

What's Your Why?

10 minutes.

  • prompt: excerpt from Michael Wesch's reflection on Connected Courses.
  • What's the "why" of your course?
  • Why should students take it - why should they care about what you are teaching?
  • What's the real "why" of your discipline?

Make a few notes on these questions to come back to later in the day.

Backward Design, Big Ideas & Essential Questions

Purpose: to introduce the backward design framework and key concepts related to designing for understanding.

Required Resources:

You will be working in table groups to develop your understanding of key concepts.

BREAK: 10 mins

Your Big Ideas and Essential Questions

Independent work: Sketching your big ideas and essential questions: 20 mins.

This is your opportunity to identify the big ideas (enduring understandings) and essential questions relevant to your course.


You may want to revisit your notes on the Why of Your Course that you reflected on at the start of the afternoon.

Optional Feedback: In a pair or group of 3, share your big ideas and essential questions. Help one another to refine those.

Setting Priorities: Course Mapping Activity

Purpose: to offer a non-linear way to prioritize what learners will need to understand, know, do, be aware of in order to grapple with those big ideas and essential questions.

Brainstorm your course using concept mapping

Starting from your big ideas and essential questions - work out from there (in concept map fashion) to identify:

  • what concepts will students need to know in order to grapple with the big ideas and essential questions?
  • what will students need to do/ practice/ develop/work with in order to sufficiently learn those concepts.
  • How do concepts connect?
  • Where do priorities emerge?

Pair up: After concept mapping, share your draft with a peer. Offer feedback based on what you already know about their course, its context, and your perspective as a learner. You may also want to use the Setting Priorities guide below to help you with your own course analysis and feedback to your peer.

  • Resource:

Next Steps

  • 3 column course planning doc.
  • outcomes, evidence, assessment and learning activities and alignment across.
  • designing for common challenges (see follow up activity)
  • muddiest points, observations, sharing.


  • Allen, D. & Tanner, K (2007). Putting the Horse Back in Front of the Cart: Using Visions and Decisions about High-Quality Learning Experiences to Drive Course Design CBE Life Sciences Education
  • Allan, Joanna (1996). Learning outcomes in higher education. Studies in Higher Education. Vol. 21, Iss. 1.
  • Biggs, John (2013). Constructive Alignment in University Teaching. HERDSA, Vol. 1
  • Cho, J & Trent, A. (2005). “Backward” Curriculum Design and Assessment: What Goes Around Comes Around,Or Haven’t We Seen This Before?. Taboo: Journal of Culture and Education.
  • Davidovitch, N. (2013) Learning Centered Teaching and Backward Course Design. Full text from ProQuest

Wiggins, Grant P, and Jay McTighe (2005). Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Print.


General Teaching Resources

Group Work

Expert-Novice Thinking

Mindsets: Belonging, Relevance & Diversity of Experience

 health outcomes of minority students. Science, 331,1447-1451. 

Syllabus Development

Follow Up

  • Designing for common challenges/problems. Try a TRIZ activity: looking at a problem from the opposite direction. For example - if the problem is cheating - what would you do to create the conditions that would encourage cheating? Approaching a problem from this direction can reveal insights about what you are currently doing to exacerbate the problem and, from there, you can begin to look at what you might do differently - in line with the big ideas and related learning outcomes you have identified.
  • Identify a common problem that course design may address. Choose a problem that is faced in many courses.
  • Follow the TRIZ process outlined on the Liberating Structures website.
  • Use the insights generated to inform your course design.