9 tips for improving your course syllabus — and the way you teach the course

by Julie Dodd

students editing in computer lab

Think about how you can get your students more actively engaged in class. Peer work can be a way of helping students better understand course content. Here students in a writing course I teach, provide feedback on a writing assignment.

Colleges and universities around the country will be starting a new academic year in the next few weeks. Students and their parents will be arriving on campus with carloads of boxes to move into residence halls. Campus maintenance crews are preparing the grounds, and construction teams are trying to finish campus remodeling and building projects.

And faculty, adjuncts and graduate students are planning their classes. Now’s the time to do some thinking that can improve the course — making it a better learning experience for your students and a better teaching experience for you.

1. Reflect on how the course contributes to the students’ big picture of learning

Salman Khan, in his One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined, reminds us as educators that students become more engaged in learning when they see the value of the course beyond preparing for an exam or completing a graduation requirement. Especially if you are teaching an introductory course, help the students connect with the value of that subject area. Your approach to the course could help some students decide to take more courses — or even major — in the field. For the other students, they will have a better understanding of the concepts as they connect to life issues.

2. Align SLOs with course content – readings and assignments

Especially the first time you teach a course and especially for new faculty members, the tendency is to select a good textbook and then structure the course to match the textbook chapters. Start first with what the Student Learning Outcomes are for the course – which you may be determining but also may be determined by the overall curriculum structure. In Understanding by Design, Grant P. Wiggins and Jay McTighe explain the process for mapping out a course — starting first with the student outcomes and then designing appropriate activities and assignments.

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