Course Design: You might be doing it wrong

When I started teaching college classes last year I had very little preparation. I just kind of jumped, head first, into the deep end. I was handed a set of textbooks and a course description and sent on my way. Now I was pretty comfortable with teaching microbiology. It is a subject that I love and I’m very knowledgeable in it. General biology, on the other hand, was intimidating. I was going to have to teach on the subject of cell biology, no problem, I can handle that. I also had to teach photosynthesis and evolution. I hadn’t really studied those topics since I left undergraduate school over ten years ago. So I did what seemed reasonable and I designed my courses around my textbooks, using all of the resources provided by the publishers.

Now, a year and a half later I’m finding out that I’m doing it all wrong. I am taking part in an awesome fellowship program with the American Society of Microbiology designed to prepare young faculty and graduate students for careers in undergraduate teaching. Last week we had a webinar on course design. In an ideal world, course design should begin with the end in mind. You should first ask yourself what you want your students to learn in the course, then build it around those learning objectives. This process can be used for the whole course and for each individual assignment. This can be particularly helpful for project based learning. We don’t do assignments and projects just for the sake of it. Instead we should have clearly written outcomes for each on. This should guide our design and our assessment.  It is definitely food for thought and I am going to spend some time re-working my courses for the next few semesters using this principle.

I am finding that there is so much for me to learn about teaching and course design. These resources were shared during the webinar and I thought they would be useful for our readers:

Daniel Pratt, Five Perspectives on Teaching in Adult and Higher Education.

Grant Wiggins and Jan McTighe, Understanding by Design.

Thomas Angelo and K. Patricia Cross, Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers

John Bean, Engaging Ideas:The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking and Active Learning in the Classroom.

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