The task of designing and building a house is daunting, especially if this is your first time to do so. Teaching a class is like building a house. The best way to start is to draft a plan for your course. As you design your course, think through it carefully, as an architect does when she drafts a house plan. Envision the end result and then work your way backward by considering the details for each section of your course. Just as an architect needs to consider issues such as flow and functionality, you need to also consider how everything fits together.
There are too many considerations to be left to chance. What do you want your house to look like? How many bedrooms and bathrooms, and how do they fit together to provide a livable and functional space for your family? Do their opinions matter? Of course they do, if you want them to live with you. Be sure, then, to get their input early on in the process. What if some things don’t work out after you have built this house? Don’t be afraid to remodel. Eventually you will reach the stage at which you have a very comfortable house and you will be proud of the effort that you have put into it.
Similarly, there are many considerations when designing and building a course. But knowing what the end result needs to look like (that is, what your students need to know and be able to do by the end of the course) is a very good start. Then, you simply put the pieces together to get there. Most architects start with a stock plan and then tweak it to meet their clients’ desires. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel – don’t be afraid to imitate the good work of your colleagues. All you need to do is to ask for their help and you will flatter them. You must also change the stock syllabus to meet your needs and those of your students. Most importantly, make the design such that it is comfortable to teach the course. After all, if you don’t like your own course, what is the point? Just like an architect, be sure to ask your students for feedback. You do not have to make all the changes the students would like to see, but most of the time their comments are useful.
Other teachers frequently ask me, “What is a good course design?” My answer to that question is straightforward. Any course design is a good design as long as it simple, functional, and gets the job done with the least amount of effort. Oh, and by the way, anyone should be able to pick up your syllabus and understand how and why each element of the course fits together. Can you imagine a house without a bathroom or a door leading in and out of each room?
“Though I agree with John Hadjimarcou that the end result should be of primary consideration when designing a course, I begin by selecting the material that has inspired me in the past or in the present as I’m researching the subject I will teach. In the process, I do hope my choices will in turn inspire my students. I could never understand why some professors ask their students to submit the thesis statement of an assignment before they write the assignment. Though I have a general idea where I’m going when I’m composing an essay, a chapter or a book, I invariably refine the beginning based on the direction I have followed. Sometimes, the material has a power of its own taking me to a direction I hadn’t anticipated. And so is the case with the designing of courses. In this way, I follow William Wordsworth’s definition of poetry, “overflow of powerful feelings recollected in tranquility.” I let my passionate response to material I have explored guide my selection. Then I look for the conceptual development of the course and often eliminate material that does not seem an integral part of the entire course.”