“Backward Design” and Syllabus Formation

For the past several years, I’ve been asked to provide a talk to new faculty at ESU on how to formulate a syllabus. This year, even though we have a hiring freeze at our university there will be a couple of new faculty members whom I will get to talk to about this important skill to help in meeting students needs. Whether you are new to teaching Applied Statistics or have been teaching applied statistics for several semester, we all need to take a look at our syllabus from time to time and see what we are communicating to students and if it is working.

In a previous blog, I talked about what to consider in an Applied Statistics syllabus https://statisticalsage.wordpress.com/2010/08/16/75/. This link includes important information on what to include in a syllabus and how it impacts students. Of course, this is in addition to whatever requirements your department may have. (And for New Professors or professors new to teaching applied statistics … even if you don’t use it, please ask for copies of other professors’ syllabi, particularly if they have taught the classes you have, and make it a point to thank them for anything you may have “learned” from their “well-crafted syllabus.” … you do not want to be that new guy/gal who acts like he or she know it all, even if you are THE expect in Applied Statistics and you have the misfortune of working with dolts!)

I also want to encourage people to think about the concept of “Backward Design” when creating your syllabus (http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/teaching-for-enduring-understanding/35243).

Backward design has a series of steps that assists faculty in developing a syllabus that increase student learning. (Yes, technically, it has three, but I’ve pulled apart two of the steps, resulting in 5 steps).

Step #1: Identifying what you want  your students to know … truly know when they leave your class

Step #2: Consider, how will you know when they get there … in other words, what assignments or other forms of assessment are going to be needed (both formal and informal) to assure your students have mastered the material and skills for which you design the class

Step #3: Identify, where are the students’ skill  and knowledge sets currently

Step #4: Specify what steps will need to be taken to so your students can achieve your desired goals

Step #5: Design your syllabus to take into account your goals, assessment,  your students, and the steps needed to help your students reach their goals

Notice, you do not start with the book, and go from Chapter 1, 2, 3, etc. In designing a class … keep your “eye on the prize.”

I have included a model of what I do for my Quantitative Psychology class. I have followed the principles of “Backward Design” when forming this syllabus, and any of the tips listed in the formation of the syllabus or in “Bonnie and Hal’s 5 Tips for Teaching Statistics” are also included in the formation of this syllabus. PSY 201 syllabus fall 2011 If you do use anything from my syllabus, please just let me know.

Right before the start of the new school year is always an exciting time. I hope you enjoy this time as you review your syllabus and set your course for an exceptional school year!


Filed under Statistics Syllabus

6 responses to ““Backward Design” and Syllabus Formation

  1. Great tutorial on how to design a syllabus. Collecting and analyzing field data may help students to get the basics in practical ways and the application of the concepts learned in classes. Statistics students, especially in non-statistics/math majors, we interacted with found statistics manuals included in syllabi to be very helpful. However, to better help students, books and manuals usually need computer application companions (and of course professionals in offices, homes, schools or on the go).
    For example, AroniStat is a Statistics application that may be used as an education tool to complement statistics manuals. Developed for Mac users, it may be found in Apple App Store. For more information visit: http://aroni.us/aroni/why-aronistat/

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