Thursday, June 29, 2006

Ode to course design

What is it about course design that’s so delectable?

I have, this month, designed my courses for next year…One is a core course that I’ve done from scratch. It’s the kind of course I’ve been wanting to get my hands on. The other is a revisiting of a course I taught in my precise field in May – about which I blogged rapturously here – and am now revamping for the fall, for this new university. I’ve surprised myself by making at least a third of the readings new ones, and adding topics with abandon. I’m happy that it’s still so alive and evolving, that course.

What I love in course design is the sense of hope that comes with the devising of what I imagine, for five minutes, is a perfect intellectual package. I love the way a vision gets played out in a selection of texts. As I choose readings and order topics so they flow, I imagine the students building on knowledge gained from one week to the next. I have ideas for lectures (which I never write down – bad me) that I am sure will speak very well to the relationships between disparate texts and topics. I feel, for a moment, certain that what I’ve constructed will hold the key to the (inter)discipline for students who really care about what they’re doing – and I’m lucky that there is a surfeit of those, at the new university.

Of course, the pristine package that I imagine in June doesn’t last through September, when the course becomes a living beast and my delusions of grandeur must end. Students become bogged down by content, and I get myopic. I tend to forget the big picture I had constructed, doing the prep from week to week (and it’s one of my goals for next year to find a way to instantiate the vision – to make it concrete with every class I plan). But having had the initial vision of greatness buoys me somehow – and I catch glimpses of it from time to time.

I also love how the design process clarifies my own thinking in relation to the field. I feel grounded, somehow hailed by texts that I might otherwise forget about. Course design keeps me in check, makes my own research and writing stronger by reminding me of the wealth of what’s out there, not letting my perspective narrow.

In these ways, I think course design nicely captures almost all of the facets of what we do, as teaching academics. It is nice to bring it all together a couple of times a year.


Texter said...

Hi! It's time for my daily hilaire comment. :) Anyway, I had to say that I too love love love creating courses and writing syllabi. Call me an unrepentant academic. And I love it for alot of the reasons you outline here. You describe so well the seductions and the fantasies involved. Savor it.

App Crit said...

In some ways I love writing courses more than teaching them. It always brings me back to the idealistic humanism that fed me through grad school. I also love the first day of a course, when the nexus of writing the course and inviting students into it is just that fifty-minute moment.