Andrew Ruis Profile picture
Apr 25, 2018 20 tweets 4 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
I recently talked with graduate students in a seminar on #teaching practices in #HigherEducation about how to design and teach a course when you are not an expert on all of the content--which is really what most teaching is. Here are the main takeaways for those interested. 1/
In my experience, there are four main mistakes that novices often make when designing and teaching a course for the first time.

First, they approach the task by venturing off on their own into the wilderness of literature on all of the topics they don't know well. 2/
In other words, they prepare for course design as if it is a qualifying exam, attempting to become experts on all of the topics that the course will/should/must cover. 3/
Second, and related to the first point, novices tend to focus their course design efforts on their (content) weaknesses, trusting that they will have little difficulty with the topics they know well. That is, they confuse content expertise for pedagogical content expertise. 4/
Third, as the first two points suggest, novices often fixate on course content to the detriment of other elements of course design and teaching. The underlying model seems to be: if you know the material, teaching, mentoring, assessment, &c. are trivial problems. 5/
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, novices approach designing a teaching a course as if it is a test of their knowledge and ability. In other words, they focus on themselves as the teacher rather than on their students as the learners. 6/
Experienced course designers and teachers, in contrast, take a very different approach. First, they do not approach course design as a content research exercise but as a pedagogical research exercise. This doesn't mean that they don't read up on topics they don't know well. 7/
But it isn't the primary goal. Instead, they talk to colleagues, former students, etc., and they start with the big picture: Why would a student take the course, and what will they get out of it? What are the core learning objectives? What successful strategies already exist? 8/
Second, they think about the course like a narrative. What is the end state? What are the shorter arcs that will help students reach that state? &c. Content is thus evaluated with respect to how it helps advance the narrative. 9/
Third, experienced teachers have a clear student model. That means they understand who the students are: what knowledge, skills, and experience they have; what they want from the class; &c. This understanding isn't perfect (it's a model), but it guides pedagogy decisions. 10/
Lastly, experienced teachers view designing and teaching a new course not as an evaluation of their knowledge and abilities (though it may well be), but as an exciting challenge. It may sound like a small thing, but it makes a big difference in the outcome. 11/
If you are looking toward summer and thinking about the new course(s) you want to design (or are dreading designing a course you have been tasked with), here is some advice from someone who made all of the mistakes outlined above. 12/
Don't toil in isolation. Talk to colleagues, students, teaching and learning experts, &c. This is as much about efficient use of time as it is about tapping the expertise of others. 13/
Expect 3-4 hours of prep for every contact hour. Given that, minimize readings and assignments to the extent possible to avoid overloading both your students and yourself. 14/
Be open with your students about your strengths and weaknesses, but also design the course so that you leverage the former to address the latter. No course is truly comprehensive, so focus on the things you do best. 15/
Borrow the expertise of others (e.g., guest lectures, videos) to cover your biggest weaknesses, but do so sparingly. It is hard to integrate those elements into the pedagogical narrative you want to construct and difficult to control the quality of the learning experience. 16/
If you don't have a good student model, build in time at the beginning of the course to develop one. Talk to your students, both formally and informally, about their interests, goals, fears, &c., and try to tailor your teaching to common needs. 17/
Get feedback from colleagues and students on your teaching and on how the course is going. Get this feedback early and often, but be sensitive to the "survey exhaustion" effect. 18/
Novice teachers tend to talk more. Make an effort to lecture less and ask students to do more. And yes, this goes for lecture courses just as much as for discussion courses. 19/
Finally, take notes after every class about how things went. These will be invaluable when you overhaul the course for the next go around, but they should also remind you of want worked well and what you want to make sure to repeat! (End thread.) 20/

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