Lecturing Series: Curriculum design

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You might be asked to design and deliver a module of your own choice or undertake a redesign of an existing module. This can be rather daunting and probably something not done while a PhD student, so here are some broad tips on how to start this process.

Job interviews:

The first experience of curriculum design is often being asked during a job interview what courses you will offer should you get the job. This is a test to see whether you are familiar with what the department currently offers and how your own courses could fit into that. When you are offered the job, your new colleagues will not expect you to stick to the proposals you offered at interview, so here’s some points to consider when designing modules.

  • Check to see what is currently on offer in the department. You will see what is popular and what students already learn about. You’ll learn about the format of the courses (yearly, termly) and will get some ideas about assessment strategies.
  • Decide what it is that you want to teach. Fit it around the current offering and do not make it too narrow to attract student interest.
  • Make sure that the resources needed are available in the library.

Practicalities of designing a module:

  • Aims and Objectives

You will have to fill in official quality assurance paperwork in which you describe the aims and objectives for the students taking the course. This is a good place to start because you will be able to work out what it is you want the students to achieve.

  • Week by week outline of topics

The first important task is to plan what topics you want your students to study, bearing in mind the learning outcomes you have set for them. To get ideas about this, look at other similar courses on offer elsewhere (some universities allow public access to this information).

  • How will you teach these topics?

Will you use lectures, seminars, workshops? Some universities are very rigid about this in order to achieve parity across the student experience while others allow you to be as creative as possible. Bear in mind that student contact hours are a contentious subject, so don’t expect them to do everything outside the classroom.  Consider the significance of e-learning facilities. Can you use these to bring variety to the classroom or even integrate them into the teaching schedule?

  • What assessment will you require (qualitative and summative)?

Your assessment regime has to provide both practice and feedback for students during the course of their learning (qualitative) and a result for them at the end of the period of study (summative). You have many different options; you must decide which form of assessment suits the material and skills you want to convey. Lab practicals, essays and exams are traditional forms of assessment, but there are many others to consider, such as presentations, book reviews, research projects, portfolios and online work such as contributions to wikis.

  • What resources do you need?

If you are designing a module from scratch, you will need to let the library, or the e-learning team, know what resources you need. There may be limits on the amount of new materials they can order, so you might have to use existing resources. You should be given several months to create a new course as it will take time to gather these resources.

Amending someone else’s module:

If you are inheriting someone else’s module and want to change it, there are several things to consider. Don’t alter things for the sake of it. The library and administration systems will be used to the module the way it is. If it works, then leave it! Ask colleagues who have taught on the course previously whether they think it works. If some topics fall flat every year then those are the ones to change. Whether you are amending existing modules or creating new ones, tap into the expertise of your colleagues. They will be able to advise you on the strategies that work best.

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