Friday, March 23, 2007

Playing fast and loose with the curriculum?

One of the weaknesses of the course I teach is also one of the reasons I like teaching it.

The curriculum revision committee I'm on has been discussing ways to maintain coherence between different sections of this multi-instructor course. Right now we have two courses to compare to. One of these, the one I'm presently teaching, has five or six different instructors, each teaching their interpretation of "Ecology, Genetics and Evolution". I kid you not, that's the full detailed curriculum.

I like teaching it because I can pick and choose freely among possible topics. So, for example, I've taught my students nothing about behaviour and almost nothing about DNA replication, but quite a lot about our local environment and about HIV in Canada and Africa. And in some ways this is good for the students, as I teach them the things I'm enthusiastic about. But, from the perspective of the goals of the Biology Program this is not a good situation, as different students learn very different things and sometimes learn nothing at all about some important topics. All sections do use the same excellent textbook.

The other first year course has the opposite problem. Instructors and students all use a common 200 page set of photocopied course 'notes' instead of a textbook. Coherence between different sections is thus not a problem (except if an instructor runs out of class hours before getting to the final topic). For inexperienced instructors this is a good thing, but there is little opportunity for experienced instructors to control what they teach. So it's hard to work up much enthusiasm.

So one goal of this committee is to come up with a curriculum document that's sufficiently specific to ensure that the important topics are covered, but sufficiently flexible to allow instructors to feel they control what they're teaching.

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