Course Design Pedagogy

The course development for SCIE 300 (Communicating Science) was the first course curriculum I participated in within a large committee.  Eric Jandcui coordinated it very efficiently.  We first identified the main skills we wanted the students to gain (overarching course aims), followed by determining learning objectives and topics.  Activities were developed to address these and the course outline was drafted.  Meanwhile we reviewed candidates for a course text.  This sounds straightforward, but there were lots of friendly differences of opinion. Ultimately, the course was divided into two parts: communicating within the scientific community and communicating to the public. Writing skill development include: writing good paragraphs, writing outlines, preparing summaries and using simple language to communicate clearly and effectively. There is also an emphasis on understanding the structure of scientific papers. A library session focuses on effective literature searches and using RefWorks. There are three class presentations using presentation software of student’s choosing. Students explore similarities and differences between science and journalism and they learn to write in journalistic style. They get the opportunity to use audio and video technology to report about a current research discovery at UBC (hot off the press). After the first running of the course it was realized that there needed to be more emphasis on writing.  The course is currently in its second year.

The approach I take with my own course design is similar. I first decide on the main things I want the students to get out of a course. What should they learn? What should they be able to do?  I find Bloom’s taxonomy very useful when developing the framework.  I decide on the activities that are associated with each learning outcome (lecture, lab, and field) and preview the textbook for readings associated with the topics.  I also consider how to integrate content students are studying in other courses. More than one activity can address the same outcome; when material is presented in different ways it promotes deeper understanding as well as better retention.   A clear outline of the course and each lesson helps to provide a conceptual framework that students can build on.  Learning objectives for each lesson provide structure and ultimately an outline (the outline and learning objectives are not the same).  Discussion and other active learning components are integrated into the lectures.  Frequent evaluation in the form of assignments, quizzes, and clicker questions helps to monitor how the class is doing and are drafted as the lessons are being created (final tweaking always occurs during polishing); they are reflected in the learning objectives.  Not all learning outcomes are assessed, such as those that are attitudinal.  I try to integrate information that students have learned in other courses, current affairs, or local interest to encourage them to make connections between courses and the world around them. Interactive learning activities and evaluation are built into the syllabus to ensure that students keep up with the content and I can gage how the class is doing.  The outspoken few often give us a false sense of the collective knowledge.  Lab and field activities are developed along side lecture.