Course 1 UbD Planner: Understanding Publications

Note for visitors: This is my final project for COETAIL Course 1. If you are unfamialr with Understanding By Design (as I was until very recently) you might want to look at this.


For my first UbD planner in Course 1 of COETAIL, I took a bit of a departure and addressed teachers not students. Many thanks to Trent Citrano who was writing his UbD for parents and pointed me to some useful resources.


The Japan Association for Language Teaching is a national organization of about 2,600 members. The organization’s motto is “Teaching to learn-Learning to teach” which sums up what members do and how JALT aims to help them. JALT is an NPO and must comply with Tokyo Metropolitan Government regulations. We have a lengthy constitution, longer bylaws, and many other rules we have to abide by. This can be a challenge for a large organization with many groups under its umbrella.

There are two kinds of semi-autonomous groups within JALT: chapters, organized geographically; and SIGs, or special interest groups. Representatives of these groups (70+ people) meet three times a year as an Executive Board to manage JALT and make sure we are doing things as we should. One of those things is making sure that all groups are in compliance with the rules, or else they may have to be dissolved. This is relatively easy to check if the rule in question is simple such as having enough members. However, it is quite difficult in other cases. One difficult rule is that to be in good standing, SIGs must send several (it varies by status) publications to their members each year. If a SIG does not do this, their status may be reduced or they may even be dissolved. The Executive Board votes on status changes and as a pretty friendly group, we’re usually pretty reluctant to dissolve a group, but we do have to follow our rules. This has become a bit of a problem because it is hard to agree what exactly constitutes a publication to satisfy the rules. That makes voting on SIG status very subjective. Voting by feeling may mean feelings get hurt. Not a good situation for a professional organization and just not fair to all concerned.

October last year I joined the Board of Directors and it is now my responsibility to help sort this out.


This issue came up about a year and a half ago. It is not clear exactly who was responsible for reaching a conclusion at that time. There were several lengthy email threads on an existing discussion list for JALT Executive Board members and two face-to-face discussions among many people over a weekend meeting. No conclusion was reached for several reasons. One, any decision would effect the status of SIGs, so the stakes were high. Two, it is unclear if everyone on the mailing list read the relevant messages. Three, even if they did, email threads are not an especially good way of managing information on a couple of dozen publications. Four, we didn’t have the data from email handy for the in-person discussions. So, plenty to improve the next time around, and thus, my UbD.

Application of technology

Google Groups and Google Docs

All participants already use email regularly, but the other technologies people use vary. The next step up from our current barebones, messages only Mailman email list would be a Google Group that allowed attachments and shared documents. This should be accessible even to members who have not used Google Groups.

Managing editors of JALT group publications (about 35 people) will evaluate online publications from other groups but even better, will be encouraged to communicate directly with peer editors in other organizations by email or as they like. Some editors are comfortable using Survey Monkey or have colleagues who have used it who can help them. Particpants will be encouraged to differentiate on this task. They will share the results and the methods on this stage via the Google Group.

Next, two shared Google Spreadsheets will be used to gather information: one, on JALT group publications; the other on similar publications from peer organizations such as IATEFL, TESOL, and national TESOL organizations such as Korea TESOL, Thai TESOL, MELTA, and others. These will allow participants to list data (e.g. frequency, pages, number of editors, number of articles, language, etc.) about their own publications and ones they study. They will include an open field for various descriptors (e.g. peer-reviewed, in color, Open Access, content notes, style, etc.)

As much as possible, depending upon copyright, participants will place copies of relevant publications in a shared repository. These will mainly be PDFs so Diigo is not useful. A shared folder on the Google Group or Google Drive will be used for this. This seems a reasonable extension from email, but will be new to some participants.

These tasks will take place over several months leading up to an in-person weekend workshop sponsored by JALT in either February of July 2014. There may be chances to do local hands-on preparation with small groups in late 2013. These will also be chances to share new techniques and applications.

Participants will move from a simple email list and progress to creating shared documents online. Some will use survey tools of their own choosing. They will also use a shared repository of files.

Meeting and technology

At the meeting, participants will discuss the compiled findings. Not all participants will be able to attend, so people who are busy will be invited to Skype in. Many participants already use Skype, but it is unclear how many have used it to attend a meeting. There are JALT officers experienced at Skype meetings who do not have to participate in the discussion who can assist with this.

JALT has a designated Director of Records who will take notes on the meeting. This will be immediately shared as a Google text document to be annotated. Participants will be shown how to annotate the document and will add initial comments to demonstrate that they are all able to comment. A period of comment will be open for participants to make notes and additions online from home after the meeting. Discussion will move from synchronous in person, to asynchronous and virtual.

Participants will designate a sub-committee of several members to extract a list of descriptors from the annotated minutes of the meeting. These will go on a shared document for final comment. Then, the resulting list of descriptors will be posted publicly on the JALT website. All JALT members will be able to see which descriptors apply to which JALT publications. Publications which meet a consensus number of required descriptors will be designated as publications satisfying the NPO rules of JALT.

Expected results

I hope that by doing this, partipants will gain skills at editing shared documents and managing a depository of shared files. These skills should be valuable to any editor who does not yet apply them to producing a publication. In addition, I hope that they will gain several of the facets outlined in the UbD planner-particularly Empathizing and Self-knowledge. I consider these be crucial to a good outcome.

So, the planner.

(Apologies to my my fellow COETAILers for not embedding the properly formatted GDoc. I created a bit of a technical problem for myself by only bringing my iPad with me as I travel for work.)

Update: I formatted the GDoc and embedded it, but like many of you, the fonts all changed and it is not readable. I’ve left the iframe here for now (maybe that is the culprit. iframes? Really?) but I’d just skip down below for more readable text.


Project Title: Publications Chairs and Editors Development Workshop

Standards Met: Adapted from selected NETs for Administrators Self­ Reflection Template See:
Educational Administrators create, promote, and sustain a dynamic, digital­-age organizational culture that provides a rigorous, relevant, and engaging professional development for all members.

From website sub­standards
a. Ensure instructional innovation focused on continuous improvement of digital­age learning
b. Model and promote the frequent and effective use of technology for professional development
c. Promote and participate in local, national, and global learning communities that stimulate innovation, creativity, and digital age collaboration

Enduring Understanding:
Academic NPO publications serve several purposes: they support the development of their readers, members, the organization, and the field as a whole.

Essential Questions:
What defines the publications of teaching professional development organizations? What are their purposes and how do they fulfill them?

Goal: Participants will understand good characteristics of academic and professional publications.

Role: Managing editor(s) of a JALT Special Interest Group (SIG) publication.

Audience: Several

Peers: editors of publications from other special interest groups
Members: each special interest group has dues-paying members who support the publications financially.
Readers: non-members may also read the publications

Situation: Members and officers have to certify which special interest groups are in good standing according to NPO rules and organization bylaws. One key criteria is the number of publications a SIG publishes each. This creates a seriously difficulty because JALT has no guidelines or definition of what is or is not a publication. Are any or all of the following “a publication”: a book, a postcard, a blog, a 12 page printed newsletter, a CD-rom, an email message, Facebook update, 80 page peer-reviewed journal available in print and online PDF. It is very difficult to compare these.

Product: Participants will document specific of descriptors that will help to define JALT SIG publications. This document will be shared in editable form on the current Officer’s Resource website in a Drupal handbook (wiki-type document). Updated read-only versions will be published online in PDF format for all JALT members, readers of SIG publications, and other teaching organizations to refer to.

Six facets of understanding
Explain: Participants will we be able to describe how different types of teaching professional organizations create their publications. These explanations may include but will not be limited to: editorial teams, style handbooks, schedules, authorial voices, ethics policies, frequency of publication, budgets, mission statements, readership, advertising, etc.

Interpret: Participants will make connections between discoveries in the Explain facet and the value of the publications to readers, members, their respecive organizations, and the teaching profession.

Apply: As members of JALT’s Executive Board, SIG officers must vote on the status of new, continuing, or failing SIGs according to JALT’s bylaws. One bylaw specifies the number of publications required. Participants will be able to make a transparent, supportable judgement of whether the activities of a SIG meet the definition of “a publication” and thus meet the requirements of JALT under NPO law.

Have perspective: After evaluations of other publications and dialogue with a peer in a similar organization, participants will understand how others make choices and accomplish similar tasks.

Empathize: Participants will have have a better understanding of how other SIGs in JALT meet their sometimes very different goals.
Have self-knowledge: Participants will clearly know the nature and characteristics of their own publications and how they may or may not meet their organization’s goals.

End of planner

Initial self-assessment

Some of this probably read like inside baseball for anyone outside JALT, but there’s lots of history and personal investment in a group of 2,600 plus with 50+ semi-autonomous groups. I think many JALT people will see how this might work. I hope I have explained it adequately (if not briefly) for others.

Personally, I chickened out on this assignment in some ways. While this is a real task with real applications for technology to help a group of people who rarely all meet at the same to try to be more consistently productive, it is for teachers, not students.

I was really struggling to come to grips with this UbD thing with the emphasis on Understandings when I come from a context where almost everything is described as Skills. My students are adults and their understanding of themselves and their surroundings is often (usually?) far more advanced than the language they need to learn. Next time, I´ll plan for my students.

2 responses to “Course 1 UbD Planner: Understanding Publications

  1. Wow! A big task here. Basically your goal is to streamline communications for the organization and to ensure that there is an impartial process to evaluate SIGs, right? So the understanding is that streamlined communications help facilitate the evaluation of groups. And the question would be: how can we more fairly evaluate SIGs as a community? Of course there are skills that would go into that process, but in UbD they are addressed after the GRASPS task (you may remember that I mentioned that a full UbD planner is 3 pages, and we’re only doing the first one. Skills and Knowledge are on the second page. What you’re doing by thinking about understandings is giving context to the skills and knowledge. That’s what they mean by backwards design. Hope that helps!

    • Hi Kim, yes, those are the goals and the questions. It is a big project, but manageable. Still trying to get to grips with the UbD scheme and maybe I should have tried something else. Maybe getting the whole thing together including page 3 will help. That’s the WHERE stage?

      I finally went in an updated the doc which was trivial once I had a full computer. I followed the embed tutorial, but the typography looks like a mess so I shrank the window down. I wonder, did anyone figure out what was going on with the text sizes and weird format changes? Thanks!

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