We never teach the same course twice. Some of the changes are out of our control: new students, new classroom, new time. A move from early morning to late at night can change the whole feel of a topic, while a group of students with strong camaraderie might take on collaborative assignments very differently from a group that includes many non-traditional students or a range of disciplines. And of course when technology is involved, the foundations are likely to shift every semester: even when I teach courses that seem to have the same name, the platform, scripting languages, and digital landscape changes so much in the course of a few months that I am always re-inventing.
However, we do sometimes get to teach a course soon after a previous offering with more consistent content (this is perhaps more likely in other fields than mine, as this is the first time in recent memory it’s happened). This offers a great opportunity to revisit a course syllabus and refine lesson plans and content while their outcomes are fresh. Jason has written about his process of syllabus fixing, and for advance planners Brian suggests involving students in the revision.
Here’s my strategies for dusting off a recent syllabus:
- Prioritize your lesson rewrites. For me, it’s usually easy to figure out which lessons absolutely need replanning from a content standpoint: for instance, I used the Apple Watch as an example of questionable user-centered design last semester when it was still new, and I’ll need to move forward to the next unlikely interface on the market. Lessons that might be worth rethinking because of student outcomes can be harder to identify: I like to revisit a sampling of each project and look for consistent weaknesses, then work back to the corresponding exercises to address them.
- Reconsider deadlines and scheduling. The flow of a semester varies from fall to spring, and there are often outside events to consider, including holidays and big campus celebrations. I like to check back in my student messages from last semester: when did I get the most requests for a deadline extension? If I have students who are likely to be taking multiple classes from me, how do the deadlines compare to my other courses?
- Pick at least one assignment for a full overhaul. Even on the rare occasion when I’m teaching a course with many of the same fundamental structures as a previous semester, I like to pick one assignment and start fresh. This is as much for me as for the students: it prevents the course from becoming monotonous or repetitive and provides a space for a new experiment. This can be a great opportunity to pull in a new technology or digital assignment without committing to it for the whole semester.
What are your strategies for revitalizing a familiar syllabus for a new semester? Share your tips in the comments!