Thinking About Course Preps

A few weeks ago, when we discussed juggling preps Horace asked a very good question:

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.

Sounds like hard work? Not so much, actually: fortunately, since some smart people over at SFU made a start on this (PDF), I only have to tweak!

So, that’s a bit of what I’m doing and how I’d do more about course preparation. What about you?

4 Responses to “Thinking About Course Preps”

  1. ADM Says:

    Actually, my department is going through this right now … partially at my instigation.

  2. Bardiac Says:

    My department rethought our numbering AND general education offerings a couple of years ago. It was a bit painful while it lasted, but now it makes sense in all sorts of ways.

    We use 100 for intro courses, none of which count toward the major (but which serve GE in big ways), 200 for major intro and survey type courses, 300 for upper level “studies in” depth oriented courses, and 400 for seminars. (We could have done better on this by focusing on skills as well as content).

    Within the numbers (and this is an English dept): X20s are creative writing, x50s are early modern British, and so forth. So not totally logical, but once you know the basics, you have a good idea where things fit, and so do students.

  3. meg Says:

    Wow — you have an Anglo-Norman survey? That’s crazy cool.

    We’ve just finished curriculum reform too, but we just gave up on the numbering system (inherited from our forebears in the 1920s) altogether, aside from the gateway and capstone classes.

  4. Horace Says:

    Interestingly, we might be doing an overhaul of the major, too–our old course offerings are a Rube-Goldberg-machine of outdated categories overlaid with newer ones (Commonwealth Lit at the 300 level, Postcolonial at the 200 level?), and precisely the same over-reliance survey courses at the expense of the 300 level offerings. I hope, actually to be on this committee, and it occurs to me that taking part in departmental mapping will help in mapping my own space in the grand scheme.

    Thanks for the post!