Begin with the End in Mind - Part Three (Spring 2016)

Accessible Version

Part Three – Considering Class Time, Scaffolding, and Resource Selection

By Wendy A. Crocker
Curriculum Specialist
Teaching Support Centre

This series of articles began with the spring 2015 edition of Reflections where the idea of constructive alignment (Biggs, 2003) for effective course design was introduced (Crocker, 2015a, 2015b), including the triangle graphic (see Figure 1) developed by the Teaching Support Centre. Good course design is structured around three guiding questions: (a) “What do I want students to know and be able to do?”, (b) “How will I know that they have learned it?”, and (c) “What techniques and resources will I use to share information?”. This third article addresses considerations for structuring and communicating how class time will be used, scaffolding the content, and selecting resources to ensure that students have the information that they require to perform well on assessments and demonstrate the course outcomes.

Thinking about class time

Often, contact time with students is viewed as the opportunity to deliver content through variations on the lecture mode (e.g., instructors teaching, video, guest speakers) which places students as passive collectors of information. Textbooks and other print based resources reinforce the concepts introduced in class time. But what could class time look like? How could activities in and outside the classroom position students as co-constructors of their learning? What if out of class time was spent learning the concepts and student contact time was used to engage in activities that applied what they had read? Two ways in which student contact time have been reconsidered is through Flipped Classroom pedagogy, and the use of Experiential Learning. Both strategies have been adopted successfully by a number of instructors across faculties at Western.

FIGURE 1: Course alignment triangle

Figure 1

Flipped classrooms

According to Educause (2012) “the flipped classroom is a pedagogical model in which the typical lecture and homework elements of a course are reversed” (p. 1). In this model the instructor assumes the role of coach or facilitator while the students use class time to engage in hands-on, collaborative activities that require them to apply the knowledge that they read or viewed in pre-class videos or lectures. The flipped classroom model is only one way in which class time is being used for active exploration of concepts and requires careful planning by the instructor to be effective. Before adopting this model consider:

• How does class size impact my use of this pedagogical approach?

• How could Teaching Assistants be used to actively support teaching and learning in this model?

• How would key information be shared with students before class time?

• How often would the flipped classroom be adopted in my course?

The flipped classroom approach has been adopted by several instructors at Western including, Dr. Sarah McLean, Assistant Professor Bachelor of Medical Sciences Program, and Teaching Fellow with the Teaching Support Centre. Contact the Teaching Support Centre at for more details about this instructional strategy.

Experiential learning

“Experiential education first immerses its learners in an experience and then encourages reflection about that experience to develop new skills, new attitudes, or new ways of thinking” (Lewis & Williams, 1994, p.5). In its simplest form, experiential learning is learning by doing. It can also be defined by what makes it different from traditional instruction. Often students manage their own learning to a large extent, instructors pass a great deal of the instruction to the students, learning may not take place in a classroom, and there may be no text books or university texts to study (Schwartz, 2012). Service learning and community-based learning have long been recognized as highimpact practices.

According to Kuh (2008),

In these programs, field-based “experiential learning” with community partners is an instructional strategy—and often a required part of the course. The idea is to give students direct experience with issues they are studying in the curriculum and with ongoing efforts to analyze and solve problems in the community. A key element in these programs is the opportunity students have to both apply what they are learning in real-world settings and reflect in a classroom setting on their service experiences. These programs model the idea that giving something back to the community is an important college outcome, and that working with community partners is good preparation for citizenship, work, and life (Service Learning, Community-Based Learning section, para 10).

At Western, we are fortunate to have staff at the Student Success Centre who will help instructors to structure courses to incorporate elements of experiential learning. Examples of these courses can be found here.

Communicating how class time will be used

A well-designed course – where the teaching/learning opportunities are aligned with course outcomes and assessments – should be communicated with students. While it is understood that a syllabus will be shared with every student in a course during the first class meeting, the purpose of the document is two-fold. First, it is a mandated device that, according to the eLearning Toolkit (n.d.) “…is the blueprint for the course expectations, requirements, ground rules, readings, assignments, exams and final projects, professor’s contact information, office location, and office hours” (para 1). It becomes a contract between instructor and student (Nilson, 2010). However, it is also a learning map for students, and thus the tone and content of that document must be easily understood. Consider sharing your course planning and alignment using “Big Ideas and Enduring Understandings” – those key elements that students should understand and be able to apply as a result of their successful completion of the course.

Big Ideas, according to Wiggins and McTighe (2005), have lasting value and serve as key concepts for making important facts, skills, and actions more connected, meaningful, and useful.

There are different methods of sharing Big Ideas with students so that they understand the course syllabus as a map for the teaching and learning of a course. One way is to create a graphic syllabus – that is an illustration that captures the outcomes, Big Ideas, and key elements about which students are concerned (e.g., assignments) in a graphic form (Nilson, 2007). Above is an example of a graphic syllabus for an engineering course where students can see how the topics and Big Ideas relate to each other over the progression of the course (see Figure 2).

Other instructors find that a Course at a Glance is a helpful organizer for their students. Instead of an illustration, the course is laid out in chart form illustrating the week of the course, the topic or Big Idea, some essential questions that will be explored, the texts that correspond to the discussion, and any assessment that is due (see Figure 3 on next page).

While the format that an instructor chooses is secondary to the information that is relayed to students, class participants must be able to discern the key assessments for the course and the ways in which lesson topics and other assignments serve as scaffolding to these larger assessments.

FIGURE 2: Engineering 209 graphic syllabus. Retrieved from https://cft.

Figure 2


Scaffolding is based on Vygotsky’s (1978) zone of proximal development and proposes that it’s important to determine the area (zone) between what a student can accomplish unaided and what that same student can accomplish with assistance. The two major steps involved in the process are: (a) “development of instructional plans to lead the students from what they already know to a deep understanding of new material…” and (b) “…execution of the plans, wherein the instructor provides support to the students at every step of the learning process” (Lange, 2002, p. 1). For example, if you include an assessment task – say a research poster – that is worth 60% of the final grade, instructors are assuming that students have the skills and background necessary to meet these high expectations. However, the reality is that often students have not had preparation to meet this level of expectation, including opportunities to submit an outline for comment, or preliminary drafts of the poster that they can revise and resubmit. When considering scaffolding for student learning, a good guideline “…is the higher the stakes, the more scaffolding you need to include. In other words, the heavier the weight, the stronger the support.” (Caruana, 2012, para 2).

To get started with scaffolding, create a brief outline of each assessment for the course including the skills needed to be successful on the assignment. List the prerequisite skills that students must possess. Consider if it is reasonable that students have these skills before arriving in your course, or if you need to teach these skills. Next, consider where these skills are naturally introduced in your course, and how they can be folded into assignments. Now, look at the list of assessments that you have assembled for the course and include the appropriate skills for each assignment. Finally, create an outline of how each major assignment is scaffolded to be shared with students so that they understand how the learning opportunities in the course have been designed to work together and build upon each other in a logical way.

Thinking about resources

When designing a course that is aligned among outcomes, assessment, and teaching and learning strategies, what immediately becomes apparent is that simply following a course text, chapter by chapter may not be the best method of sharing information with students. While a text offers one method of framing a course, other supplemental material should also be found. Those resources are often virtual in nature and may include podcasts, instructor-created video, websites, and blogs. Students are “connected” everywhere, and seek to make sense of their world (and of our courses) in-person and on-line. While opening a course syllabus to include more on-line and virtual supporting texts can be a daunting task, inviting students to seek out helpful course resources as part of a classroom activity would add to their engagement with the material as well as help to find resources that meet your requirements as the instructor, yet are helpful to learners. To take this activity one step further, found resources could be added to a course OWL site by students. As an assignment, small groups of students could select and annotate the new resources according to criteria established by the instructor. Not only would this activity address resource-finding for course content, it would also give students much needed practice in becoming critical and discerning users of on-line material.

FIGURE 3: Course at a Glance for Dr. Wendy Crocker’s Education 9405 Leadership in Early Childhood Curriculum

Figure 3

Aligned course design

In this series of articles beginning in spring 2015, the concept of aligned course design has been explored (Crocker, 2015a, 2015b). Beginning with the importance of course outcomes, then the alignment of outcomes and assessment, and finally the structure of teaching and learning opportunities, these three articles have addressed key questions with which effective instructors have grappled: What do I want my students to know, do, and value at the end of this course?; How will I know that they have been successful?; and What teaching and learning structures need to be in place for students to demonstrate what they have learned? For more information or assistance on creating aligned courses, please contact the Teaching Support Centre curriculum team at


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Caruana, V. (2012). Scaffolding student learning: Tips for getting started. Faculty Focus Retrieved from

Crocker, W. A. (2015a). Course design: Begin with the end in mind. Reflections, 72, 5 – 7. Retrieved from

Crocker, W. A. (2015b). Begin with the end in mind – Part two: Connecting assessments to course outcomes. Reflections, 73, 5 – 7. Retrieved from

Educause (2012). 7 things you should know about the flipped classroom. Retrieved from

eLearning Toolkit (n.d.). OWL tool – syllabus. Retrieved from

Kuh, G. (2008). High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. American Association of Colleges and Universities. Retrieved from:

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Lewis, L. H., & Williams, C. J. (1994). Experiential learning: A new approach. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 62, 5-16.

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Nilson, L. (2010) Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors. (3rd Ed). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Schwartz, M. (2012). Best practices in experiential learning. Experiential Learning Report. The Learning and Teaching Office, Ryerson University, Toronto.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.