First-Year Seminars: Designing Assessments Using Backward Design

On-Demand Training

Participants will walk away with numerous ideas about how backward design can be used to determine the most useful assignments in the first-year seminar course.  Specifically, participants will discover how to use action-focused career assignments and activities to help students choose a career pathway and the importance of increasing the academic rigor by fostering information literacy and critical thinking skills that are needed for success. 

The first-year seminar is often designed using a content-based or activity-based design.  With content-based design, the first-year seminar often becomes the dumping ground for many different topics and related assignments and activities.  With an activity-based model, the course is often designed around guest lectures, scavenger hunts, or other activities.  Wiggins and McTighe (2005) argue that these approaches leave the achievement of learning outcomes to chance.  Instead, backward design provides a framework that keeps the learning outcomes front and center.  It is therefore essential to shift from first-year seminar courses that require students to complete a variety of activities that are not linked to requiring students to complete a couple of significant projects that are directly aligned to learning outcomes. 

According to the backward design framework, assignments and activities need to stem from learning outcomes. This webinar will focus on summative assessments that align with the learning outcomes for the first-year seminar and the importance of identifying formative assessments that help students know if they are on track to be successful. During this webinar, the focus will be on assisting students to choose a career pathway and building academic skills that will enable them to meet with success.

Because of a national focus on student success reform such as Guided Pathways, many first-year seminar courses have been increasing their focus how to help students choose and stay on a career path (Harrington & Orosz, 2018). On most campuses, a re-design or re-imagination process is needed so that the first-year seminar course is focused on career exploration and planning and also developing essential academic skills. Unfortunately, career is one of the least emphasized topics in the first-year seminar, with only 29.3% of two-year colleges and 13.1% of four-year colleges indicating this is a topic area in the first-year seminar (Young & Hopp, 2014). At colleges and universities with a career component to the course, the focus is usually on self-assessment and gathering career information. As a result, students are often not taught how to develop and expand their network. This webinar brings attention to the importance of action-oriented assignments and activities that build essential skills such as networking, which has been shown to be the most effective way to find a job (Adler, 2016).

Although career exploration and skill development are important, the first-year seminar should also be used to help students develop essential academic skills that will enable them to achieve their goals successfully. It is critical that we raise the bar and increase the academic rigor of first-year seminars. Research has shown that student study habits during the first semester are predictive of behaviors during their senior year (Schilling & Schilling, 2006), yet the academic rigor of first semester classes such as the first-year seminar are sometimes not on par with other academic classes. Because of the supportive nature of the first-year seminar, it is a perfect place to challenge students to engage in high-level academic tasks and develop critical thinking and information literacy skills. Participants will discover how to use several academically rigorous assignments, and activities can help students develop the essential academic skills they need. For example, participants will learn how using scholarly research can help students build their information literacy and critical thinking skills. With this approach, students will learn how to read and extract key findings from peer-reviewed research and learn how to find and evaluate information on student success. This more academically rigorous approach to the course will increase the credibility for both students and faculty.

  • Describe backward design and the importance of identifying summative assessments that align to learning outcomes
  • Identify several action-oriented assignments and activities that will help students choose a career pathway
  • Discover how scholarly research can be used to help students develop essential academic skills needed to stay on a path and achieve success
  • Administration
  • Enrollment Management
  • Faculty
  • Student Services/Affairs
  • First-Year Seminar Course Coordinators/First-Year Experience Directors
  • Advisors/Counselors/Librarians
  • Any educator interested in learning more about backward design can be used in the first-year seminar course
To help students determine a career path and develop essential skills so that they can be successful, it is critical that first-year seminar coordinators and faculty step back and reflect on course design and the nature of the assignments and activities.  Increasing academic rigor and action-oriented assignments will help students make good decisions about their career path and will empower them to successfully achieve their goals.
Photo of webinar speaker Christine Harrington.

Dr. Christine Harrington is an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at New Jersey City University. She worked at Middlesex County College for 18 years as a Professor of Psychology and Student Success, the Director of the Center for the Enrichment of Learning and Teaching, Coordinator of Student Success and a Counselor. She also served a 2-year term as the Executive Director of the Student Success Center at the NJ Council of Community Colleges. She is the author of Student Success in College:  Doing What Works! 3rd edition, a research-based text for the first-year seminar course that aligns to Guided Pathways, published by Cengage Learning. She also co-authored with Todd Zakrajsek Dynamic Lecturing: Research-Based Strategies for Evidence-Based Practices, and Designing a Motivational Syllabus:  Creating a Learning Path for Student Engagement with Melissa Thomas, both published by Stylus. She is also a contributing author of Foundations for Critical Thinking, published by the National Resource Center on the First Year Experience and Transitions. Most recently, she co-authored, with Theresa Orosz, Why the First-Year Seminar Matters: Helping Students Choose and Stay on a Career Path. Dr. Harrington is frequently invited to present at conferences and at colleges an universities.

What is a live webinar?

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Is there a recording available? And how long is the recording good for?

Approximately one week after the conclusion of the live webinar, participants will receive a link to the recording which can be forwarded to all faculty and staff for viewing anytime, anywhere. The recording is a campus access license and is available for one year from the date of the live event.

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For individual or small group viewing, a computer with a reliable Internet connection and audio capabilities are all that’s needed. For large group presentations, we recommend a computer with a reliable Internet connection and speakers, as well as an LCD projector. Participants can call in via phone if they are having trouble retrieving the audio over the computer. Please be sure to reserve a meeting room prior to the live event that can accommodate these requirements as well as your attendees. You should reserve the room 30 minutes prior to the webinar start time and you may want to allow at least 15-30 minutes after the webinar for discussion.


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How can we use these trainings?

Flexible Training:

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Staff Recognition: Develop a program around the webinar with monthly themes and recognize the staff members that implement the best idea related to the theme.

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New Employee Training: Include the online training as part of your new employee training program to ensure consistency.

Implementation and Follow-Up: Use the guide and evaluation materials provided by Innovative Educators to plan, implement, and track your progress.


How much does a live webinar or on-demand training cost?

1 Training (Live Webinar or On-Demand Training) - $425 Unlimited connections, campus-wide access license to the recording for one year.

Package Pricing

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Payment terms are net 90 days.

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Please mail checks and POs to our mailing address:
Innovative Educators
3277 Carbon Place
Boulder, CO 80301

What is your cancellation policy?

Below is a breakdown of our cancellation policy.

  • 30 days prior: Full refund
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All live Webinars and over 100 pre-selected, on-demand webinars.


Is the price for Go2K a one-time fee or an annual fee?

The purchase price for Go2K is an annual fee, which includes access to over 150 live events/year and 100+ on-demand trainings.


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Your on-demand portal includes automated certificates of completion and can be printed or downloaded after completing the training. The live events do not include automated certificates. However, we can provide you a fillable certificate PDF to share with faculty and staff.


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For your on-demand trainings, we provide you with a monthly usage report as well as an evaluation report. Upon request, we can provide annual or bi-annual registration reports for any live orders.


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How are colleges using Go2O?

Colleges are using Go2O in a variety of ways:

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You can receive completion reports two ways:

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What is the registration checklist and is it included in my Go2O purchase?

The online enrollment checklist is designed to walk students through your enrollment process ensuring they make it to the first day of class! The registration checklist is one of the modules available with Go2O. Based on your purchasing level, the module can be a selection or will be included.


Are there various pricing options available for Go2O?

Yes, we have 4 pricing levels available.

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Is Go2O ADA compliant and responsive?

Go2O is ADA accessible and fully responsive on any mobile device, tablet, or computer.

How are colleges using SL?
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Which workshops are your top rated?

We take quality seriously, and so all of our workshops are top notch in terms of content and look. However, if we know how you plan to use StudentLingo (FYE, Retention, Probation, TRIO, etc.), we can make workshop recommendations.


Funding is a little tight, how many workshops can I get for $XX?

You can buy the entire StudentLingo package (48 workshops) or we offer several a la carte options. Unlike a lot of other software companies, we don’t charge per user, so we can work with any budget. We recommend talking to other departments on campus to increase your purchasing power and to share the cost. Also, we do have a pay model whereby students pay directly. If you are interested in learning more about this option, give us a call.


Is there an admin view?

This is a feature of our platform, but comes at an additional cost. With the admin view, you get access to more advanced reporting, and you have it in real time. With the standard membership, you get monthly reports.


How have other schools leveraged reporting?
  • One of our partners, College of Southern Nevada, used StudentLingo to measure learning outcomes. in a study, one class had access to StudentLingo and the other cohort did not. 92% of the cohort with access to StudentLingo earned a whole letter grade higher than the cohort without StudentLingo.
  • A lot of our partners use the data to justify funding for grants, operating dollars, or for new program development.
  • The evaluation data is particularly useful in identifying what type of learning students prefer and the qualitative takeaways from viewing the workshop.
  • Some of our partners use the data to connect with their student information system, like Banner or Peoplesoft. 
  • I think a great way to get started on how you want to use the data is to ask yourself some questions:
    1. How will I know if StudentLingo was successful?
    2. What do I hope students will gain from access to StudentLingo?
    3. What data is important for me to know in order to show that StudentLingo is a worthwhile purchase?
What is TutorLingo?

TutorLingo is a series of 9 online training modules that prepare tutors by providing the basic skills necessary to support their peers in becoming more independent and strategic learners.


Should the TutorLingo trainings be viewed in any particular order?

No, each training is a stand-alone workshop, and they can be viewed in any order.


What is the CRLA?

The CRLA is a group of student-oriented professionals active in the fields of reading, learning assistance, developmental education, tutoring, and mentoring. In 1989, the CRLA created a training program that is considered ‘best-practice’ for tutor training. A fews years ago, Innovative Educators partnered with the CRLA to create supplementary training modules. Our training supports learning centers in achieving level 1 certification through CRLA.


Do CRLA members receive a discount on TutorLingo?

Yes. CRLA members receive a 10% discount on TutorLingo.


Is there an admin view?

Yes. The admin view is an upgrade and costs $500, but gives you the ability to access completion data more efficiently and in real time. If you don’t want the admin view, we provide monthly usage reports.

What is ParentLingo?

ParentLingo is a go-to resource that institutions can easily share with parents to encourage student independence, growth & success. ParentLingo is a shared resource that recognizes and includes parents as partners in the educational process.


What is the cost?

Please contact us for pricing information.  Email kristen@ieinfo.org or 303-955-0415.


What features are included?

Standard package:

  • 8 Targeted Modules For Parents Branding (Logo On Every Page)
  • ADA Compliant & Responsive Design
  • Promotional Materials
  • Registration (First Name, Last Name, Email)

Premier Package:

  • 8 Targeted Modules For Parents Branding (Logo On Every Page)
  • ADA Compliant & Responsive Design
  • Promotional Materials
  • Completion Reports & Standard Evaluations
  • Custom Branding (Logo & Institutional Photos)
  • 3 Additional Registration Points
  • Add & Edit Custom Content
  • Customizable Evaluations & Surveys Advanced Reporting
  • Designated Instructional Designer
  • Flexible Pricing (College Payment Option Or Parents Pay Directly)