Personalizing Learning with Design Briefs

Amanda Wendt teaches science at the American School Foundation of Monterrey, Mexico. She participated in GOA’s Blended Learning Design Studio (BLDS) from October to December, 2016. This post was originally published on Amanda’s blog. The next BLDS session begins February 6!

I started this year with a focus on personalizing learning. As we worked through the Ecology and Biology units of semester one, students were given multiple opportunities to choose the place, pace, and path of their learning. Engagement was high and the quality and originality of student products had increased. Tracking a wide variety of projects and assignments, however, became a challenge for us teachers.

In the quest to simplify and track student work, I have adopted the use of Design Briefs. I first discovered the system of using design briefs in a course offered through Global Online Academy (GOA) called Blended Learning Design Studio (BLDS). As a student in the course, I had to complete several of my own design briefs for each challenge that I pursued. I found the format to be highly valuable and I have since modified this format for my own students.

What is a Design Brief?

A design brief is simply a template or scaffold that is used to document the process undertaken when tackling a major project or assignment. There are three main phases that students work through in order to demonstrate learning as they progress through each part of their project – vision, action, and reflection. At the end of each phase students work through a series of checkpoints to ensure they are on the right track and to receive peer feedback and teacher approval. Get your copy of the template here: Design Brief Template.

Why use Design Briefs?

  • Dynamic: since Design Briefs are completed in Google Docs, students have the ability to update and change parts of their project and the design brief at any time. This ability allows students to track their progress, thought process, and growth. Students are also able to incorporate a variety of media formats into their document and links to additional resources that they may be using.
  • Interactive: the sharing feature of Google Docs allows students to give their classmates and teachers access to their documents in order to allow for feedback through the use of the comments and suggesting features.
  • Organized: the template provides an easy to use scaffold that leads students through a series of tasks and checkpoints allowing students to work at their own pace and not needing to wait for further teacher directions. Students are also required to organize their own time and tasks helping them to become independent learners.
  • Flexible: students are given the ability to interpret the assignment and express themselves using a variety of learning tools. The design brief does not specify how or what students should be completing, but instead leads them through a series of tasks that will help them reach a common understanding regardless of the type of product they have chose to complete.
  • Reflective: every design brief has a final component where students reflect and take responsibility for their learning and that of others in an open forum. Students focus not only on the content they learn but how the learned it.

Personal Reflection:

I have now used design briefs for two major projects with my students and have found the following results.

  • Phase I – Vision: Resulted in greater student understanding of project requirements and objectives because students were required to understand what was expected of them and determine how they were going to achieve this through the creation of an action plan before they could begin the actual project planning.
  • Phase II – Action: Overall projects were of much higher quality due to the increased planning, research, and draft work time as well as peer assessment. Students often jump straight to creating their product and often miss several components however they were unable to move on until a complete draft and checklist had been completed. This resulted in projects with little to no missing components.
  • Phase III – Reflect: Reflections focused on the learning process versus the content. Students had a better understanding of what worked well or not well and why. They feel more confident in tackling a large assignment based on this process and felt more in control of their own learning.
  • Peer Feedback: Resulted in more creative and original pieces as well as an opportunity to show growth and improvement. Students valued the amount of collaboration and help as they progressed through each phase. They also felt more connected to each other and saw their classmates as valuable members of their learning.
  • Checkpoints: The checkpoint system resulted in increased work time for both teachers and students as there was no waiting for other groups or the teacher to finish with who they were working with. The shared doc allowed students and the teacher to see who was done and who needed help freeing up the the time it usually takes to circulate and check-in with individual students or groups. This could also be done asynchronously allowing for faster feedback as students and teachers could work at times convenient to them, instead of only during the allotted class period.

I will continue to use design briefs as a way to structure large projects and assessments. Please feel free to use my Design Brief Template and share with me any feedback or how you have been using it with your own class! Thank you 🙂

Be a part of what's next
Connect with us

Contact Us