Tag Archives: organization

Course Design


I don’t know how many of you came into the university without any teacher preparation, but I will own up to it.  Beyond a one hour seminar I took as a first year GTA, I never had any formal preparation for the classroom.  I taught my students the way I was taught.  I used the structures and techniques from the teachers that I liked.  I taught the material that I had been taught, or that I had learned on my own, but I did it without any planning. It never occurred to me that I should plan.

This changed during my first sabbatical.  I went for an entire year and taught one course to pay for the other half of my salary.  I taught engineering mathematics and as a part of that I was given a syllabus.  I also was told about the testing center:  If I told the folks in the testing center ahead of time, I could have them proctor my exams and not worry about having to make special allowances for make ups.  How cool is that?

But to take advantage of this, I had to set exam dates a semester ahead and divide up the topics my students were responsible for, so I could teach them within those dates.  I discovered that this was absolutely liberating.  When I brought this practice back to campus, I discovered that my students here loved it.  My student ratings went up, and it made teaching easier.  

It was so much easier that I was able to continue teaching even during the semester when my third daughter was born.  My students remarked on how well prepared I was even though I was not able to do any preparation that semester; I was barely able to stay awake.  I had organized it all the year before.
I do not look back with pride on the fact it took me until my first sabbatical to discover this, nor am I particularly proud that I only recently discovered the name for this sort of thing:  Course Design.

Let us take it as an axiom that knowing your academic subject is essential.  However, as a teacher knowing your subject is pointless if you are not able to transmit it to your students.  Intentionally designing your courses with the needs of the student in mind is a great aid to that transmission.

It’s just a good thing to do.  Students who are already organized will be able to plan their study better.  Those who are not will benefit from seeing organized behavior modeled for them.  In addition, if you begin the design of your course with your goals in mind, i.e. your student learning outcomes,  that makes your personal assessment of the course easier.  If you’ve planned what you are trying to do, you will have a better idea if you are achieving your aims.
In short there just isn’t a bad thing about it.

Quite frankly, I consider the hard part of the class to be over after I’ve got the dates for the assignments set.  This is a few weeks before the semester begins.  After that, it’s  just a few hours a week talking to enraptured young people and a little grading.  Okay, maybe they aren’t enraptured, but at least they have a chance to prepare for what is coming.

I would welcome comments, public or private, on techniques/structures you use designing your courses.

Bobby Winters