The freedom of design

Understand by Design (or UbD, if you’re pressed for time) is an exciting, if somewhat intuitive, approach to course and curriculum design in which planning does not begin until clear goals for understanding are defined.  It seems obvious that this is how teaching and everything else Should Be Done; life and semesters are too short to waste any time without a clear direction.  But this, of course, is missed by all of us at some point.  Things get too busy, responsibilities pile on, and at some point, we have to just do something whether it’s the right thing for our goals or not.    When we are actually able to get it together, it’s amazing how pervasive the benefits of good planning can be:
That’s what I find so exciting about this process: it is so much better for me and the students to be in the middle of a UbD. Everything seems so relaxed, I’m more confident, and the students are very excited. They seem to sense something more at the core of what we’re doing. I suppose they sense the goal: the goal is usually not revealed as completelyand clearly. I know what my students know, I know what they don’tknow, and I know what I need to do. How liberating.
—A teacher reflecting on using UbD [emphasis mine]
The quote above is from the introduction to the book Understanding by Design, which is available for free in e-book format to VCU students through the library catalogue. My wife will gladly tell anyone who will listen that I am not a planner.  I tend to let things roll how they will and run with it, so “freedom” is not something I naturally associate with this kind of structure.  On the other hand I have felt both the regret of time wasted without direction, as well as the freedom that can develop from the confidence that I’ve “done my homework.”  I’m excited to have an opportunity to develop course goals and a suitable curriculum to meet those goals now, as a grad student, before I am faced with additional pressures associated with a new faculty position.
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