Due to the current situation with COVID-19 we are sharing ways to run Online ABC Learning Design workshops.

ABC as part of the educational training course for academic staff (KU Leuven, Belgium)


Institution: KU Leuven (Erasmus+ ABC to VLE project partner)

Description: ABC as part of the educational training course for academic staff

Authors: Ine Rens, Elke Van der Stappen (Educational Development Unit KU Leuven)

Date: ABC workshop on 28 May 2019, follow-up interviews with participants in January 2020

Course details:

KU Leuven offers an educational training course (‘Teaching at KU Leuven’) for its academic staff, from all disciplines and the fifteen faculties. The course consists of three blended modules: the first being ‘The basics of course design’ and the others being advanced ones on a theme by choice (assessment and feedback, supporting academic writing, teaching large groups, blended learning, …). In the basics they learn how they can optimise several aspects of their own course, and they are being challenged to further develop their personal views on education. The module consists of three units, each with a specific focus and followed by a face-to-face meeting. In the meetings they get in touch with several methods and ways to look at their course design. ABC is one of these, and is part of the third meeting.

Overview of the structure of the module 'Basics of Course Design'


Course goals/learning outcomes:

At the end of the third unit in the module, participants will have learned about how students learn (and the role of metacognition in student learning), what is meant by ‘activating students’ and how to do this in their own course, and how to use the digital learning environment and which tools can be used. In the meeting they go through ABC design as a way of fitting all these puzzle pieces together and to look at their course design from the students’ perspective.

Case Study

Image from workshop, illustrating

“By starting from the learning activities, I realized there is a mismatch between what I expect from students and how I teach.” (participant from Faculty of Economics and Business)

“The workshop made me aware there are more teaching formats than what I was doing up until now.” (participant from Faculty of Movement and Rehabilitation Sciences)

Context of change

ABC was implemented in ‘The basics of course design’ module as a way to put the theory on student learning and the possibilities of blended learning into practice. All participants are going through a (re)design of their course, all with a different focus or other source of motivation. With ABC a method is offered to look at their course and to create a language to discuss with colleagues.

ABC workshop plan

The workshop had 12 participants (from different faculties and programmes of study) and was facilitated by three colleagues from the Educational Development Unit. Participants were asked beforehand whether they could bring a colleague of their own, which three of them did (e.g. a doctoral student who co-teaches their course). They also submitted an assignments as preparation:

  • the drawing of the learning activities graph (the distribution of the learning activities in their course at this moment);
  • description of their vision on activating students in their course, on how students learn, and on their digital capacity;
  • select one tool and describe why and how they are planning to use it.

In the workshop participants are grouped with 3 colleagues based on their context (discipline, the kind of students they teach, …) and their assignment. Because the participants don’t know each other and each other’s courses and contexts, it makes it difficult to exchange throughout the workshop and be each other’s critical friend. Therefore, we have added for each phase in ABC a set of questions participants can ask each other to stimulate reflection.

ABC design

Outline of the workshop:

  • 10’ Introduction: position of meeting within whole educational training course, and the goals of meeting
  • 20’ In small group: pitch in 1 minute your vision on why you would activate your students and discuss how you address metacognition in your course.
  • 65’ ABC – part 1
    • 10’ Introduction on ABC, the Conversational Framework and the 6six learning activities
    • 20’ Setting the scene
    • 35’ Storyboard – learning activities
  • 10’ Break
  • 40’ ABC – part 2
    • 10’ Storyboard – teaching methods
    • 10’ Storyboard – feedback and assessment
    • 10’ Exchange on storyboards
    • 10’ Comparison current and ideal situation + action plan
  • 5’ Conclusion

As the ABC design is framed as a way of looking at your course from a different perspective, some participants ended up with a complete design where others didn’t. However, for all participants it was a thinking and reflection exercise in which they broadened their mind and ideas.

What was actually done

During interviews with 5 participants about half a year later, some did make a few changes while others didn’t but still have the intention to do so:

  • Participant 1 (Faculty of Movement and Rehabilitation Sciences): plans on redesigning course to blended format with the use of webinars. ABC helped to further develop this idea and the design of the course. However, more support and background in blended learning was needed for implementation, and he is now following the advanced module on ‘blended learning’.
  • Participant 2 (Faculty of Economics and Business): implemented changes in communication to students about expectations and the rationale behind the course design, resulting in better results and a better follow-up throughout the semester of students. Didn’t implement the design completely because of a lack of time, but is taking it step by step.
  • Participant 3 (Faculty of Law): implemented more elements of ‘discussion’ and ‘collaboration’ in lessons.
  • Participant 4 (Faculty of Engineering Science): ABC definitely stimulated reflection on the course and thinking about alternative approaches. By lack of time, she didn’t come yet to implementation of the design.
  • Participant 5 (Faculty of Arts): implementation of four changes listed in the action plan, namely reformulation of learning goals, aspects of ‘flipped classroom’-approach, more room for ‘discussion’ and ‘collaboration’, and change in sequence of learning activities.

Overall, the changes that ABC triggered, were mostly in their way of thinking: ABC helped to get into the students’ shoes and look at their course from a different perspective.

“What really stuck with me from the ABC workshop is the question “what do I expect from students and how do they get there?”. I keep this question in mind when thinking about my teaching and designing my courses.” (Participant from Faculty of Economics and Business)

What support was required/provided

Participants are offered two individual coaching sessions throughout their educational training course, and one possibility is post-workshop support after ABC. None of the participants of this workshop did. However, after ‘The basics of course design’ they go on following two advanced modules on a theme by choice in which they continue the (re)design of their course into more detail.

Impact and evaluation

The participants who did implement some changes, experienced some impact such as more active participation by students or better results. However, for most of them it was too early to speak about the impact of their changes on student learning.

Successes and lessons learnt

The lesson we learned from this and previous ABC workshops, is the importance of the discussion taking place among participants and their colleagues, also indicated by the participants:

“The big advantage was that I had my PhD student with me during the workshop: I could talk on my ideas using our own vocabulary, which would be hard if I had to discuss with a participant from another discipline” (participant from Faculty of Law)

“My PhD student and I discussed before going to the workshop the assignment I prepared and what we understood by ‘activating students’ and how we are already doing this. Also, for the student it was a learning experience in looking at teaching from another perspective.” (participant from Movement and Rehabilitation Sciences)

We therefore keep insisting that they either bring a colleague of their own, or we facilitate the discussion among participants as much as possible.

For us, the educational developers who facilitate the workshop, the link between what participants go through online (on student learning, digital tools and activating students) and the ABC method is very clear. However, for participants this isn’t always the case. Therefore, in the upcoming ABC workshops the integration of both has been explicitly taken into account: the part on ‘feedback & assessment’ has been replaced by an exercise on metacognitive activities and how to include these in the storyboard.

The training course ‘Teaching at KU Leuven’ is under revision at the moment and will be completely redesigned by academic year 2020-2021. These changes might impact the place and use of ABC within.

Further information

Information on the KU Leuven educational training course: https://www.kuleuven.be/onderwijs/professionalisering/zaplesgeven/teachingkuleuven

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