If you could start over again, what might you do to develop your archive of courses in a logical and ordered way?
Now, this is particularly useful, given that our department is all about curriculum reform. We have an idiosyncratic system where 1000-series courses are first year, 2000-series courses are European-topic surveys suitable for 2nd or 3rd year students, 3000-series courses do the same work for North American topics and 4000 courses are senior seminars. This works well for us in scorekeeping which student has taken what amount of courses in the relevant geographic areas, but otherwise is vastly confusing. So, we’d like to set up a course system where 2000 numbers are reserved for survey courses and 3000 numbers are for more refined classes, preparatory for the seminar-level discussion of the 4000 classes.
So, to start off curricular reform all the members of the curriculum committee were asked to identify which of their 2000 and 3000 courses would be suitable for renumbering. And I realized that I only have three types of undergraduate courses: freshman Western Civ, second year surveys and senior seminars. I really didn’t have a clue as to what would make a good 3000-level course? What could I rejigger from my current 2000-level offerings (ANE survey, early and late medieval surveys, Britain 1399-1714, Reformation, etc.) that would more logically work at the advanced level? Honestly, for weeks? I didn’t have a clue!
So, to get back to Horace’s question, if I were doing this all again, from scratch, I’d build a flow chart of departmental courses as well as mine. I’d look at other programs to see how they modeled student progression through sub-fields. I’d talk to some other colleagues in teaching-intensive situations to see how they did it.
And then I’d turn to my own little corner. I’d try to see that courses built up, one upon the other, but also that, say, you could feel “prepped” for the senior seminar, in terms of content, at least, with only a second year survey. (Let’s not get into the perennial problem of students who need senior seminar credits in my geographic area but have never taken a course dealing with history before 1850.)
In my own retrofitting case, I would fill in my 3rd year blanks with some thematic classes, moving from the concrete to the more analytic. Say, a course on the premodern family? Or another pulling out topics in the history of ideas? Or something on the history of religion (recasting the Reformation course)? All of these courses could be bridges between some of the surveys and senior seminars, but also approachable outside of that. Of course, on one hand, blah!, new preps to juggle, but on the other hand, a more nuanced approach to the material we’re supposed to cover!
A lot of the inspiration for this comes from developments I’ve been privy to at the institutional level. These days, we are all about objectives and outcomes. So, from the course to the curricular level, I would be defining these as I designed the course, using the objectives and outcomes to help refine the types of assignments, activities and intellectual challenges I visualize for each distinct type of class.
So, that’s a bit of what I’m doing and how I’d do more about course preparation. What about you?