Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Basic training

A couple of weeks ago the instructional resource center at my university sent out an announcement for "course design camp." People who were teaching a course for the first time, or reworking an existing course, were invited to come to a half-day workshop on the subject.

In my ten years of university teaching, I've designed lots of courses. If I had to do a quick count, it would be thirty to forty, counting major redesigns of courses with nominally the same topic. You'd think I'd consider myself something of a veteran, if not an expert.

But I signed up for the camp, because I find course design to be difficult work. I'd like to know about other approaches than the one I built for myself out of trial and error. Maybe there are better ways to accomplish some of the goals I set for myself in putting together my courses. It's tough for me because over time I've come to believe that just about all the values and processes of the course need to be carefully structured ahead of time; anything without very specific delineation in the syllabus and grading structure tends not to be successful in the implementation. I've gone from being a go-with-the-flow course designer to being a meticulous demiurge -- if not micromanager -- making sure everything is in place and robust, every contingency accounted for, every potential question answered, before I walk into class on the first day.

All that construction work is pretty intense, although it tends to be creative and rewarding. I guess I just wonder if there are other ways of going about it. I also wonder if my approach might prove to be the norm on this campus or an outlier, and I'm curious to see what methods my fellow workshop participants bring to the table. In the final analysis, I just find it irresistible to get a peek into other people's course design approaches, both informed and ad hoc, and see both what I might learn and where I currently stand.

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