And now, a short post about course planning

One of my major activities for the week was nailing down the details for my big lecture undergrad course in the winter. It’s a complete reworking of the department’s largest course (200 students), which has moved from a “telegraph to the internet” sort of history of communication course to “introduction to communication studies.” I always struggle with how to balance introducing students to some canonic names and approaches vs. contemporary material, as well as what the minors might need to know (we only have a minor, no major) vs. the people for whom this will be their only course in the field, ever. I’ve made my peace with that, so it’s on to how to actually set up the class.

Every time I set up a class, I find it to be a huge hassle to move around assignments and dates on my word processor as I experiment with different sequences and so on. So this time, I did something different. I laid out post-its on the table with dates for each class meeting. I then wrote in the permanent stuff like “midterm” and “no class, professor out of town.” I then made post-its for all my topics/reading sets. I was able to move stuff about at will and play with different arrangements of assignments. It was all immediately clear to me how things fit together. And then I brought Carrie over, and talked with her about the course. When she suggested a major reorientation of the material, it took just a few seconds to move the unit at the end up to the beginning and vice-versa.

I’m going to plan all my courses that way in the future.

Now if I can just settle on an assignment structure, I’ll be golden.

6 replies on “And now, a short post about course planning”

  1. Hmm. I’m trying to do this now. Maybe I’ll try this. I guess you could do the same thing with Stickies on the Dashboard (especially if you have a huge screen) … But would it be the same?

  2. Nick — if you had a big screen and could stick a sticky to a sticky, I think it might work. But the post-its have a certain tactile pleasure and take up a good deal of space on a table, so you really get the lay of the land.

  3. Me too! I’m going to try this!

    It strikes me as odd that no one’s invented a typical academic syllabus creator template or program (like excel) that automatically generates dates and assignments for us to rearrange at will. Any takers?

  4. While they’re at it, they could also invent a good multiple choice question management program for macintosh.

  5. On the Mac, try the flowchart / info architecture software Graffle. tV ps. Levi-Strauss used to have a big wooden slot machine to organise his trees in the same fashion, so you could move stuff around (pre-computers, pre-stickies).

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