In the online biz world standard advice about writing a blog post is that you should write to one reader. I’m not sure I always succeed, but it is sensible advice.
Thinking back to the days when I planned courses, I’m not sure I ever really gave much thought to who exactly the audience was.
I think it might be a useful exercise, though.
Are you writing the course you wished you’d been offered?
Is your starting point the course you took as an undergraduate? Are you trying to plan a better class than the one you took?
Was this course not offered when you were an undergraduate but you wish it was?
Knowing what you know now, are you writing the course that you think would have prepared you better for what came next (for you)?
You were not a typical student
You were the kind of student who loved learning. You wanted to get As.
You have a passion for the subject that probably extends back to when you were an undergraduate. If you didn’t you never would have done that PhD and pursued an academic career.
“What came next” for you was graduate school. Only a small percentage of your students will go on to graduate school. An even smaller percentage will go on to graduate school in your area.
Who else is in your class?
Some of your students just want a certificate that they think will improve their chances of getting a “good job” (variously defined).
Some of your students are interested in other aspects of the university experience as well as the classroom aspects.
- They are involved in student politics.
- They play varsity sports.
- They are involved in a student society.
Some of your students are really passionate about another subject and are taking your course to fill a breadth requirement.
Most of your students do not work equally hard in all of their classes.
Not all students want an A
Most students want to be rewarded for the effort they put in.
What they think constitutes an appropriate mark for their effort is based on their past experience.
What they think constitutes an appropriate effort is based on their past experience.
Neither of these things might be in line with your expectations.
Let’s ignore the few who seem to think they deserve an A just for turning up. And let’s assume that those really are the few.
You need to demonstrate the importance of the work you ask them to do
You need to make it clear what your expectations are.
- What are your objectives for this course?
- How will you assess the extent to which they have met those objectives?
- How do the various aspects of the course (lectures, seminars, reading, short exercises, etc) help them meet those objectives?
Being clear about these things — in the course outline, in classes, in individual interactions with students — enables students to get more out of your course.
It also enables you to defend the marks you give. And to actually give marks without having to manage a lot of anxiety about whether you are being fair, whether this student will contest, etc.
It doesn’t make your course harder. In fact it focuses student effort on actually learning something instead of on trying to figure out what they need to do to please you.