I Love Course Planning

I have to confess, I love to prepare for my courses. It’s probably one of my favourite parts of working as a professor and, sadly, it’s a pleasure I’ve been denying myself for months as I focused on pressing issues of writing and editing.

Thursday, I finally broke down and opened up my word processor to get down to business. I’m starting with my senior seminar – I’m using three “new to teaching” monographs and one that I’ve taught with before (students will love/hate that book because it’s really engaging and opinionated but it’s also over 500 pages long). It was fun to pour out on paper the thoughts I’d been mulling over in my free time over the past few months: how many weeks for each subject area? What kinds of discussion questions to pose? Then I move onto the assignments and that opens up a new round of options. Will I be able to shoehorn in an essay proposal along with the essay itself? Do I ask for the essay in the second-to-last class meeting or at the very end of term?

A well-planned course is a thing of beauty. It clearly plays into the overall curriculum of the program, helping to build needed skills and guiding students clearly along their path to mastery. It lays out expectations for the overall class as well as each individual. It answers their questions about process and asks them questions about what they’ve learned.

A well-planned course is an awesome creation and even the best course can get better. That’s why, each year I toss my notes on what worked well and what didn’t into my course planning folder so that they’re right at hand when I’m back to teaching the course again. (Thank you, fabulous notes I left for myself in 2008 and 2011 to guide this fall’s revisions.) I eliminated some questions that weren’t really fruitful for my senior seminar and broke up another subtopic differently in light of how difficult it was to jump-start discussion the last go-round.

That’s the part I love about course-planning: playing with the possibilities of topics, readings, assignments and questions. A bit less fun, but just as engrossing? Tweaking the flow of the course over the meeting dates. It’s a lot of work to track exactly which days we meet in the term when the university’s calendar only shows start/end dates for the term along with holidays. (I’d kill for a calendar that included, you know, an actual calendar so I could see the dates each class is meeting instead of having to remember that if my class is a Wednesday-only class that we don’t meet the final Wednesday of term which is, instead, a make-up date for Thanksgiving Monday.)

I’ve put the planning aside again after this initial rough-in. Why? Because I know I’d spend too much valuable writing and editing time on the course planning work, tweaking and testing and twiddling some more. I don’t have to have the outlines ready for reproduction until very late in August so I will keep my hands off, as much as possible, in order to focus on the other work that needs to be done now.

But it’s soooo tempting. Ah well!

Please tell me I’m not the only one who likes some aspect of course-planning and, if you enjoy some part of it, what’s your favourite?

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “I Love Course Planning

  1. Rohan

    No, no, you aren’t the only one: I love it too. I don’t much like filling in all the rules and regulations on the syllabus, but I like mapping out the readings, looking for neat juxtapositions, and trying to find what I hope will be the right pace for assignments. I actually have been deliberately putting off course planning this summer (well, I had to order fall books already, but the rest of it!) because it’s easy to get caught up in its finite tasks and defer the more amorphous summer reading and writing projects!

    • J Liedl

      That’s exactly the reason I’ve been putting off any course planning as long as possible. I know I can get lost in the work and there’s not a lot of change between “really good” and “slightly better than really good” even though I might spend a day or two on the difference.

      I’ve justified this effort by having just gone through a nasty three-day migraine. I can keep working through these, but only on matters which involve shorter focus. So I can’t keep focused on all the threads for a complicated editing task, say, or my new writing project. But I could read through an article for information or draft out the new timeline for the seminar (and then I can send that information to all registered students along with the booklist, so they’ll know what books to buy and which to read first).

  2. Oh, you are SO not the only one. I love playing with the assignments, figuring out how each fits with what, how to frame it so that the students are both challenged and aware yet not overwhelmed. I love reframing learning objectives and trying to get students to buy in, curious. It never goes as planned – but that’s part of the anticipation. And I love me some anticipation!

    • J Liedl

      You’re right that there’s a gap between what we anticipate and what we experience. I try not to let those get me down because even with the shortfall, the courses are almost always better than the previous time I’d offered them. We learn by trial and error!

  3. I like how I get a clean slate each semester — new students, a new chance to get everything right. That’s what makes course-planning fun for me.

    • J Liedl

      You’re so right – even if we’re teaching the same course year after year, it’s an all-new experience. I’m looking forward to trying some new texts, new breakdowns of classroom time and new assignments!

  4. Me, too! There’s so much possibility. You try to put things together to provide opportunities, and then the students will run with some (if you’re lucky), and leave others behind (necessarily). But that possibility, that’s beautiful!

    • J Liedl

      After the first assignment, the disillusionment starts to build. Not overwhelming but nonetheless, especially when you see people who didn’t try (or who tried only at the last minute).

      Until then? We can revel in the possibilities, yup.