I have been teaching Accounting to college students for about 15 years now. I have to admit that I had no idea what I was doing in the beginning and am still learning about teaching. While teachers at the k-12 level are required to be licensed, we don’t require a license to teach at the college level. We work under the assumption that an expert in the field should be able to teach others.
I have been fortunate to have taught at institutions that value faculty training in the art of teaching and provide opportunities for faculty to develop themselves in the field of teaching. Many of my colleagues have not been so fortunate. This seems to be a topic of conversation at many of the conferences I attend. There appears to be a need for faculty training on the art of teaching; therefore, I am providing this blog as an avenue for us to share our thoughts on the subject and to educate each other.
In my early years of teaching, I didn’t fully understand the importance of course development. I basically planned class activities week-by-week based upon the next chapter of the text with no thought as to how to tie the concepts together or assess student learning. When I started developing courses for online delivery, I realized the importance of planning the entire course in advance of the beginning of the semester. I quickly realized the value of applying this principle to all the courses I teach, regardless of the venue or format.
I liken the course development process to planning a vacation. I wouldn’t get in the car and start driving without a plan for my vacation; it’s equally ridiculous to start a semester without a clear plan for each course. The first step in the vacation planning process is deciding where to go. I can’t really plan the trip until I know where I’m going. Likewise, it’s crucial to know the course outcomes before planning any lessons. According to the American Association of Law Libraries (2004), “Learning outcomes are statements that specify what learners will know or be able to do as a result of a learning activity. Outcomes are usually expressed as knowledge, skills, or attitudes. Learning outcomes should flow from a needs assessment. The needs assessment should determine the gap between an existing condition and a desired condition. Learning outcomes are statements that describe a desired condition—that is, the knowledge, skills, or attitudes required to fulfill the need. They represent the solution to the identified need or issue. Learning outcomes provide direction in the planning of a learning activity.”
This definition of learning outcomes leads to my next point. In order to plan a trip, you must first know where you are going, and then you must consider your starting point. In order to plan the learning activities in a course, one must consider what students should be able to do upon completion of the course, as well as the skills students are expected to have when entering the course. The gap in the skill set is the foundation for all activities within the course.
Once the beginning point and the final destination have been decided, one can develop a plan for the trip. Plans can be made for rest stops, refueling stops, etc. Key signs and landmarks along the way can be mapped so that one can make sure (s)he is still on course. Before starting a long trip, I calculate the distance between the starting and ending points then use that to determine when and where I intend to stop. Knowing how far I’m going allows me to calculate the number of stops I will need to make. This is also important when developing a course. It’s important to determine how far the students will need to “go” to master the skills. This is also helpful in determining the checkpoints along the way to make sure students are meeting the learning outcomes. I find it helpful to build my courses backwards. I begin with the skills I expect students to have gained by the end of the course, then work backwards to build the next level until I reach the level of skill that I expect students to have when they begin the course. Let’s consider a simple example; assume that I want to teach my five-year-old grandson to ride a bike without training wheels. In order to ride his bike without training wheels, he must be able to balance himself while peddling and steering. Since he knows how to peddle and steer, my lessons would focus on balancing himself.
In future blogs, we will further explore course development. We will also tackle issues such as cognitive development, learning styles, and other topics related to teaching. I hope that you will join in the discussion and we can all learn from each other.
American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), 2004, Developing and Submitting a Program Proposal to the AALL Professional Development Committee, ‘What are learning outcomes?’ http://www.aallnet.org/prodev/guide_for_developing_and_submitt.asp