On syllabus design: part 1, laboratory exercises.

I'm getting ready to teach my first class at SLU. It is my first experience working completely independently to teach a class, and there is so much work that goes into it.

First, of course, I have to design the syllabus. When I say design I mean two things: First, figure out what to teach, when. Second: literally type it up in a coherent format for distribution. These are two different things but both have to be done well, and they are providing me with quite a challenge.

To be honest, though, I am not starting completely from scratch. This is a course that has been taught before, and I have several years worth of old course materials as a resource. I started with the old syllabi and tried to revamp them completely. The problem is that as a lab course, with experiments that will run over multiple days or even weeks, fitting everything in is like putting together a puzzle. I was advised to keep out one or two exercises that were often problematic to execute, always confusing to understand, and not really integral to the goals of the class. Seemed like good advice, so I eliminated those. I was also advised not to add anything new: leave the vacancy; give myself some breathing room my first semester out. Seemed like good advice, so I decided to reorder the remaining exercises. The next challenge has to do with budget: there isn't much of one. I can't start introducing all these newfangled techniques when we don't have the reagents or equipment for them.

The question becomes, then: How do I revamp an old class with very little money and a very limited number of ways to achieve the goals set out in the course description? I have been working on this puzzle for two weeks now, and have finally come to the conclusion that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I have just taken last years' syllabus, added my name and contact info to the top, and retitled it for Fall 09.I have realized that I can update the class by focusing on the lectures and assignments, and leaving the labs alone.

I'm not done yet, though. That was only one fourth of the overall syllabus. Next topic for discussion: deciding what kinds of assignments to give, and how much each assignment will be worth.


Lisa said...

Ahhhh.....the joys of teaching!!!! Sounds like a good plan to start with what you have.... plus, as you go, you can take notes for next semester's class and change things if you like.
At least you don't have to label everything. And I do mean everything. Five sets of folders, notebooks, homework chart, jobs, two desk tags, birthday chart, bus list etc. Times 21 kids. Super fun! :)

Unbalanced Reaction said...

Yeah, I agree that starting out with what you have is the best policy. Take the first semester to calibrate to your new institutions students. Then next semester or even next fall you can try out new stuff. Good luck!