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From the Archives: On Syllabi and Course Design

classroom It’s the end of July. This means that you have already finished all of your course plans and syllabi for the upcoming semester, completed your course websites or CMS modules, written your assignments, quizzes, and exams, reserved materials at the library, and photocopied all your handouts, right?

I jest, I jest.

Never fear, ProfHacker is here with an extra-large dose of goodness from the archives to help you approach the beginning of the year with creativity and calm. The day before the semester starts is not the day to suddenly think “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if I completely overhauled my standard intro class and add a wiki, student blogs, and pecha kucha presentations?” Well, of course you can think that if you like, but acting on it might be difficult at the last minute.

Keep in mind, the first rule of productivity is “don’t fix what’s already working.” If you’re satisfied with the assignments, policies, and course plans you’ve used before, then there’s no need to do a big remodel. But if there’s something that you’d like to do differently, then the following posts should offer some ideas for thinking through the pedagogical implications as well as some practical how-to advice.

Selecting Course Materials

At most institutions, you will have already been required to order your textbooks for the fall semester. (If you’re still on the bookstore’s list of delinquents, quit reading ProfHacker and go order the books already. It doesn’t help your students if the shelves are empty when they go to buy books.) Amy recently wrote about deciding to modify her reliance on published texts in favor of other kinds of materials, and many faculty choose to supplement textbooks with handouts, coursepacks, websites, or other materials. Julie’s post Using Creative Commons Material in Your Classroom discusses how licenses for online content might affect your use of it. Her Talking About Fair Use in the Classroom covers some key issues surrounding educational use and copyright. Erin’s Kindling the Classroom? raises some important points to consider if you teach texts that some students may choose to read on a Kindle or other e-reader.

Planning Course Sessions

Jason usefully asks What is a Lecture For, Anyway? and Ethan’s series of posts on presentation technologies, including Prezi and Bee Docs Timeline, offer some alternatives to PowerPoint. Julie’s Tools for Synchronous and Asynchronous Classroom Discussion opens up some possibilities beyond in-class discussion. Brian offers some ideas about How to Grade Students’ Class Participation and guest author Derek Bruff offers his method for Getting Students to do the Reading using pre-class quizzes.

Creating Course Assignments

Now is the time to think about how you’re going to be evaluating your students’ learning, both in terms of the kinds of assignments and the technology you might use to collect and grade them. Heather explains about Digitizing the Lab Submission Process to avoid piles of paper and I wrote about Paperless Grading with GradeMark. Jason explains why he gives multiple-choice quizzes in his CMS and guest author Derek Bruff writes about Multiple Choice Questions on Exams. Three posts about student research projects contain lots of valuable ideas: Jeffrey explains about using Student Contracts for Digital Projects; guest author Derek Bruff discusses Motivating Students with Application Projects and Poster Sessions; and guest author Amy Earhart comments on Using NINES Collex in the Classroom.

Not surprisingly, a number of posts take up questions about how and why to integrate the use of technology into teaching and learning. Amy offers strategies for Encouraging Students’ Digital Problem-Solving Skills. Julie explains why she sees value in teaching humanities students how to code. Guest author Jentery Sayers takes up Integrating Digital Audio Composition into Humanities Courses. Jason explains why he has students do presentations in the Pecha Kucha format.

Julie offers valuable introductory advice in Integrating, Evaluating, and Managing Blogging in the Classroom and she and Jeffrey collaborated on How are you going to grade this? Evaluating Classroom Blogs. Amy wrote about Tools for Managing Multiple Course Blogs and using WordPress Multi-User to manage them. Brian offered Reflections on Teaching with Social Media and Jason cautioned about The Creepy Treehouse Problem.

Setting Course Policies

As you plan your courses, it’s a good idea to set aside some time to review any department, college, or university policies that might affect your teaching this year, such as policies covering the archiving of student exams and assignments, FERPA, emergency preparedness procedures, disability accomodations, medical withdrawals, religious accomodations, and so forth.

As you consider those course policies that you set individually, you may find some of the following helpful: Nels’s Developing Policies for Late Assignments; Jason’s Five Tips for Dealing with Gadgets in the Classroom; Jason’s Living With Your Own Absence Policy; Ethan’s Developing an Electronic Communications Policy; Billie’s Technology Policies on Course Syllabi; Brian’s Digital Office Hours and George’s Five Suggestions Concerning Disability, Accomodation, and the College Classroom.

Writing the Syllabus

After working through these aspects of course design and planning, it’s time to actually create your syllabi. I discuss doing an extreme makeover of an existing syllabus (and include some links to resources for creating a brand-new one) and recommend scheduling a Catch-Up Day. Jason recommends that you Put Learning Goals Into Your Syllabus. Brian discusses Shifting The Days of Your Syllabus. The wording of your syllabus is important too: Nels recommends that you Rid Your Syllabi of the Passive Voice and Heather discusses Choosing the Right ‘Person’ in Classroom Communication. If you just want to make some quick changes, the ProfHacker team offered 11 Fast Syllabus Hacks.

Have any particular questions as you get ready for the new year? Let us know in the comments and look for more ProfHacker posts on preparing for the start of the semester over the next few weeks.

[Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user Max Wolfe]

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