What is ABC?

ABC is a quick and intuitive way to design your curriculum. Originally developed by UCL, this method is based on a simple storyboarding method that lets you plan out a sequence of activities. At the end of the session, you’ll have an outline of what your students will do throughout your unit, know when assessments will take place, and have an action plan for your next steps. 

What Happens in an ABC Session?

An ABC session will take about 2 hours if you’re working on individual units, or 2 ½ hours if you’re working on a programme. There are three main sections to the workshop, regardless of which option you’re taking: 

  1. Describe your unit
  2. Storyboard your unit
  3. Create an action plan

Step 1: Describe your unit

The first thing to do is make sure you know the overall character of your unit. What are the ILOs? What is the purpose of the unit? What blend of activities do you currently use? Answering these questions helps to make sure that everyone involved in the design is working from the same starting position. 

Step 2: Storyboard your unit

This step is the main part of the session. You start by deciding on an overall structure for your course. Will you organise it by time, by topic, or by tutor? Then, you build up a sequence of activity types, such as Discussion, Investigation, or Production. The developer of the framework explains each of the available activity types in this short video:

Finally, you decide which activities will be formative or summative assessments. 

Step 3: Create an action plan 

By the end of Step 2, you will have an outline of your unit to work from, not a complete design. The last step of the workshop is to devise an action plan for the next concrete steps you will take. These next steps are up to you. You may wish to review the plan with any colleagues that could not make the session, or you may wish to talk to eLearning to identify technical solutions for your new design. Not writing and following an action plan means you risk losing the momentum you gained from the session. 

Beyond the Storyboard

The Faculty and University have many strategic goals that should influence your curriculum design. Some of these relate to student experience, such as taking into account how you can improve equality, diversity, and inclusion. Others are more regulatory in nature, such as the recently released OfS blended learning regulation report. During the ABC session, you will be encouraged to consider these as part of the process rather than trying to layer these concerns over your design at a later date. 

The current list of goals we encourage you to think about are: 

  • Constructive alignment 
  • Digital capabilities 
  • Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion
  • OfS blended learning regulation 

Prompts for consideration will be available during the workshop, but you may find it useful to start considering these things in advance. 

Constructive Alignment

In its simplest form, constructive alignment is concerned with ensuring you have identified appropriate learning outcomes for your students, know how you will help them reach those outcomes, and have an assessment strategy to allow them to demonstrate they have attained these outcomes. This process places your intended learning outcomes (ILOs) at the forefront of the process.  

Writing meaningful ILOs can be difficult, and it is tempting to fall back on familiar verbs such as ‘know’ and ‘understand’. For more advanced students however, simply having them demonstrate their knowledge may be insufficient. You may need them to demonstrate higher-order thinking skills and greater mastery of the subject. Bloom’s Taxonomy is a very useful tool for guiding reflection on what you could expect a student to do in order to demonstrate such mastery: 

Bloom's Taxonomy triangle with six levels. From top to bottom are: Create, Evaluate, Analyse, Apply, Understand, Remember.

During the ABC workshop, you will have time to think about your existing ILOs or come up with some new ideas. If you want to try drafting some in advance, there is an ILO checker available from the University. During the session, you will be given a set of verbs that align to Bloom’s Taxonomy, but you may find it useful to look at this in advance. You can download the file below.

Digital Capabilities

Digital capabilities are those skills required to live, learn and work in a digital society. Although our students have the chance to develop these skills during their education, they may struggle to explain what they can do, and how it relates to their future employment. Jisc have developed a framework by which students can determine their level of digital capability, and how it progresses during their studies. 

There is a great deal of information on StaffNet about the need for embedding digital capabilities into your curriculum so that your students can develop and demonstrate the skills they need when entering employment. You will get the chance to consider how you can encourage your students to do this during the ABC workshop, and will be given a copy of Jisc’s digital capability curriculum mapping tool to aid you. This document allows you to reflect on how your students practice their capabilities in your unit, and plan how they can develop them further. You may wish to download a copy in advance to give you more time to plan this important aspect of your curriculum.

Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion

The University is committed to creating an environment where diversity is celebrated and everyone is treated fairly. This is not simply about creating accessible content, though that is certainly a part of it, but it is more concerned with allowing equity of opportunity. Building flexibility into the course structure and assessment strategy is recommended where possible, as is making time to ensure your students are making good progress, staying up to date, and practising the skills they need for their assessments. 

You may also wish to make time within your curriculum to find out more about your students so that you can avoid making assumptions regarding their backgrounds, prior experience, and learning preferences. Avoiding faulty assumptions can make your learning materials more relevant and effective for all students. 

You will be given a list of EDI-related prompts to consider during the workshop, but if you wish to start thinking about this in advance you can download a copy below.

OfS blended learning regulation

The Office for Students has set out its regulatory views of blended learning, based on research conducted by a panel of experts in 2022. The report mainly relates to two OfS conditions of registration for HE institutions, called B1 and B2. These conditions focus on ensuring that students receive a high-quality academic experience (B1) and have the necessary resources, support, and engagement with staff to receive that high-quality experience (B2). Their report lists a series of circumstances under which OfS may have regulatory concerns regarding B1 and B2.  

Several of these circumstances are directly relevant to curriculum design, and you will get summaries of these to consult during the ABC workshop. Consideration of these circumstances is important, not only as the OfS has regulatory oversight of higher education institutions, but also because following the guidance will help to ensure that your students are receiving a high-quality academic experience.  

In general, the issues tend to focus on student experience. Ensuring that your curriculum is designed around pedagogic needs rather than making do with limited physical resources, for example, or that your blend has been thoughtfully designed rather than made to meet an arbitrary target. Ensuring that the students are the primary driver of your design, and that you provide the support and resources they need to succeed, will generally get you on the right track.  

Some of the more important factors that may be of concern to OfS have been collated from their report, and you will be given a copy during the workshop. If you would like to see these in advance to begin your planning before the workshop itself, you can download a copy below.

Booking an ABC workshop 

If you wish to book an ABC workshop, please contact Ryan Metcalfe (ryan.metcalfe@manchester.ac.uk) or Lisa Donlan (lisa.donlan@manchester.ac.uk) in the FBMH eLearning team. You have a choice in how the workshops can be run. They can be online or face-to-face, and the latter has a choice of a more traditional paper-based approach or a digital experience.  

When you contact us, we will work with you to tailor the workshop to your needs.