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C'est la Z

When does a new course really get developed

Following up on my last post I thought I'd talk a bit more about course development. According to most powers that be it's all done ahead of time. Organizations and companies with curricula to sell package it all up ahead of time lesson by lesson unit by unit. When I create a new course at Hunter, they demand a sample syllabus during the approval process with a week by week outline, assignments reading and more. When I created CAPE for Google back in 2010 even though the programs man advocate knew the real deal he and I spoke many times about needing something on paper to satisfy the higher ups.

To me most of this is nonsense. When I create a new course I have an idea and a direction but little else. Of course there's much work to be done between idea and implementation but for me a detailed curriculum that early is mostly a waste of time. Why? Because it all changes once you get in the classroom.

I'll do the bare minimum to get by the gatkeepers. If they want a week to week, I give them a week to week but I won't stress over it. I then get to work on what I feel I need prior to running a course. A framework and the first few lessons in detail.

Developing the framework means:

  • understanding enough of the content to teach the course.
  • deciding on how you will teach or run the course
  • developing rough outlines for units, possible assignments etc.
  • finding and understanding resources like possible texts and tools and also things like data sources mentioned in my previous post.

And of course there's more. I'll also work out the first unit in day by day detail.

Another important aspect is that this framework design is where you put in your safety nets. What's the backup plan if unit 2 takes too long or students just aren't getting unit 3. Another important aspect is to prepare too much material. In my experience it usually takes longer to teach something than you originally plan but I still think it's better to plan too much rather than too little.

Why do I only plan out the first unit in details? Because i know things will change once the rubber hits the road. Even if it doesn't change, developing specific lessons without regard to your current students seems rather odd. It reminds me of how Bill Irwin learned his role in Eight Men Out. Irwin's amazing but apparently never played baseball. He played Eddie Collins, the White Sox second baseman. Having not played himself, his action scenes were choreographed like a dance. The director would yell action and he'd do his dance. If the ball happened to go where it was supposed to you ended up with a bang bang play. If not, cut, retake. It worked for the movie but it's not a great idea for a teacher. How can you plan day 5 of a class when the first four days and all the richness of the live classes and time between hasn't occurred.

Of course this means a lot of work under the gun but no one ever said that developing a new course was easy. It's reassuring that I'm not the only one who does the real class development in real time:

Finally having survived the first run through it's time to throw it away. Not really but it's time to take lessons learned and work them into the class. From there, it's incremental improvements.

So there you have it, a summary of my approach to course creation.

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