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1 August 2016 Improving Course Coherence & Assessment Rigor: “Understanding by Design” in a Nonmajors Biology Course
Julie Minbiole
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Instructors in two- and four-year undergraduate institutions face a variety of challenges in designing and delivering high-quality courses for their students and in creating accurate assessments of student learning. Traditional course planning (a linear, start-to-finish process based on the knowledge and perspective of the instructor) can lead to lack of clarity of learning objectives for students, uncertainty about course priorities for both instructor and students, and poor alignment between course material and assessments. To address these issues, Understanding by Design (UbD), a course-planning protocol widely used in K—12 education, was implemented to redesign a one-semester, nonmajors “Sensation & Perception” course at a four-year liberal arts college. This implementation improved the instructor's understanding of desired student learning outcomes, allowed core concepts and science competencies to be prioritized as recommended by the “Vision and Change” reform initiative, and led to decreased lecture time in favor of greater lab and student-driven discussion time. In addition, this process allowed components of evidence-based reasoning and scientific process to be incorporated authentically into assessments. Despite the increasing rigor of assessments, there was a statistically significant increase in students earning an A or B on the final exam after UbD implementation.

© 2016 National Association of Biology Teachers. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press's Reprints and Permissions web page,
Julie Minbiole "Improving Course Coherence & Assessment Rigor: “Understanding by Design” in a Nonmajors Biology Course," The American Biology Teacher 78(6), 463-470, (1 August 2016).
Published: 1 August 2016

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course design
curriculum design
Undergraduate biology
Understanding by Design
Vision and Change
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