How to work with inherited modules and construct your own.
Not everything is new when you land that dream job as a lecturer. Often you have to step into others’ shoes, teaching long-standing modules that have been carefully crafted and developed over many years. How can you make your mark without treading on toes? And how can you fit in with the module and learn from it yourself?
Before you begin, it is worth establishing what is expected of you, in detail. If the person who ran the module is not available, make sure you ask questions of your line manager (Head of Department, or teaching coordinator), around the following key areas:
Have you received all the necessary materials? Are there online materials to which you need access? Who will give you password access? Do you need training for adding material to VLEs such as Moodle or other online environments? Are module handbooks your responsibility? Are there any old lecture notes available to you? Are you expected to write new coursework and/or exam questions, and if so, when?
What degree of freedom do you have to alter the module? Are you expected to stick closely to the existing course materials? Is there any flexibility (for instance, can you edit the secondary reading list to fit your ideas? Can you add or remove primary texts? What room is there for altering the order of topics in a given module?)
Is this course expected to run in the future, and if so, will you be expected to teach it? Or are you filling a caretaker role to cover a year in which the module may have been advertised in advance, while the person responsible it has left? In that case, what are the options for you to create your own module(s)?
Is the module to be taught by an individual or team-taught? If the latter, make sure you clarify your role in relation to the other teachers. Are you the named convenor? (In which case, is timetabling your responsibility? how will you ensure that you know what your team is doing at any given point in the semester?) Do you have responsibility for delivering seminars as well as lectures?
There are many other questions you may need to ask when you inherit a module. Bear in mind, however, that it is often better to teach on a pre-existing module than create one from scratch from the word go. It often takes time – at least a full academic year, and maybe two or three – to really grasp the shape of the full teaching programme, and the rationales behind existing modules.
Use this time to assimilate, to think about how you might construct your own modules, and to learn from the material on the existing module. You can also use this time to develop the module you have inherited in ways which reflect your own expertise.
If you consider creating new modules, be aware that these must conform to university regulations, and that the procedures for ensuring they do so are often lengthy. Applications to put new modules on the books can sometimes take at least a year to process, and may only be possible to submit at certain times of year. Any new module must be rigorously assessed to ensure that it is appropriate to the level of study proposed, that it is a suitable ‘fit’ with other modules on the programme, and that it is both academically rigorous and pedagogically sound. Be prepared to make a substantial case for your module not only in academic terms, but in terms of teaching methods, learning outcomes, and even marketability (e.g. you may need to provide estimates of the number of students likely to take the module).
If all of this seems too daunting, remember, too, that teaching a module that you have designed yourself on an area you are passionate about can be wonderfully rewarding. And it doesn’t stop there: each year of teaching will enable you to refine your teaching in the light of your students’ results and their responses to you, and to for you to build up your contribution for years to come.