The mystery of course design

I spent the day Friday talking about curriculum design with a professional educator and then today I was working on a course that I’ll be teaching in two weeks.  The perfect, ideal, wonderful course always eludes me.  The cycle of course design is unfortunately too long – as we’re teaching a course we think of a great idea and if we’re lucky we write it down.  If we’re really lucky we’ll remember where we wrote it down!  Then we wait at least until the next semester, in most cases though we may have to wait until 8 months later to actually incorporate that awesome new feature.  If it turns out to not be so hot, we’re stuck with it until the current semester is over and then we redesign the next edition.  We’re dealing with a design cycle of about a year from idea to implementation.  I’m the type of person who needs to know if something works NOW, and if it doesn’t, fix it NOW.  So, a few key words of advice (and yes, I’ll remember to check on my own blog to see what I wrote down!): (1) write it down somewhere and also write why you think it was such a hot-to-trot idea, (2) start looking for some research on it, either anecdotal from colleagues or empirical in the literature, (3) think small – don’t try to incorporate the world, be incremental, (4) most importantly document what worked and what didn’t, I’d love to hear your experiences!  Reflective learning is powerful, we just need to take time to do it and be patient as the loop closes.

What influence are you having?

Tompkins (1991) challenges me, “We tell ourselves we need to teach our students to think critically so that they can detect the manipulations of advertising, analyze the fallacious rhetoric of politicians and expose the ideology of popular TV shows, resist the stereotypes of class, race and gender …. But I have come to think more and more that what really matters … is not so much what we talk about in class as what we do …. The classroom is a microcosm of the world; it is the chance we have to practice whatever ideals we cherish.  The kind of classroom situation one creates is the acid test of what it is one really stands for.” [seen in Weimer 2002].

Remember the student

I find it easy to forget about the students while I’m teaching – obviously a bad habit since teaching can’t happen in isolation of learning and learning clearly requires students!  Last fall I was teaching a large class (450 students) and as I was looking out at the student body one day it hit me – I don’t just teach, I don’t teach a class, I actually teach a set of individual students.  When you’re standing in front of a group of students I encourage you to actually look at an individual student.  Do you know their name?  Their interests?  Their background?  Their fears?The same can be said about grading or evaluating – don’t worry about the class average, think instead about each student’s individual grade.  Each student is unique and needs to be treated (taught) uniquely.   That may seem impossible in today’s dollars and cents higher education environment, but don’t give up. Sure, it takes effort but what worthwhile enterprise doesn’t?

An interesting quote

Will Durant once said, “Sixty years ago I knew everything; now I know nothing; education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance”.I remember being twenty and thinking I knew it all so I shouldn’t be surprised when undergrad students have that attitude.  Maybe that’s what makes teaching in the undergrad system so much fun – the students’ confidence and  courage to actually try to change the world.  That reminds me of a seminar I was in when the presenter ended by explaining how he was going to change the world.  Nothing big, just little steps here and there that would indeed have a significant impact in aggregate.  So I suppose that this is where I state how I’m going to change the world?  Nope, that would be too big an insight to leave here at this point, instead I will ask myself the question, “How am I going to change the world?”  I’ve got a few ideas, again nothing grandiose like Bono trying to eradicate world poverty (good on ya!).  Stay posted!