Assignment, Syllabus, & Course Design

Assignment Design: We cover the best practices of assignment design during a fall lightening lunch session and in the summer workshops. You can also set up an appointment with us to look at a specific assignment or series of assignments. Far from being an isolated part of the course, each individual assignment ideally relates to what came before it, what comes next, and to the overall goals of the course. The short handout from our Lightning Lunch session includes tips and sample assignments. More sample assignments coming soon.

Further reading: Both Engaging Ideas (by John Bean) and The Elements of Teaching Writing (by Gottschalk and Hjortshoj) devote entire chapters to assignment design. You can borrow a copy from CFCD.

Syllabus & Course Design: We hold a half-day session on syllabus design every year in August, and we offer a three-day workshop on course design every other year in early June. For our purposes, the syllabus is the document that lays out the content, logic, and ethos of the course for students, while course design refers to the behind-the-scenes work that we do to plan and organize the course around our goals for student learning. If we are honest, many of us will admit that we tend to teach the way we were taught and/or the way we have taught in the past. Recent research, however, challenges us to re-think how we do things, with an eye toward how students experience both the sequence and the type of activities. In our experience, a few small adjustments, in the planning phase and/or during the semester, can make a great deal of difference in how students learn in the course. The goal of the workshops is to support faculty in the project of designing (or redesigning) a course.

Further Reading: In What the Best College Teachers Do, Ken Bain considers the syllabus in the broader context of faculty expectations. In chapter four, Bain distinguishes usefully between assigning more work and provoking more learning, and he outlines what he calls a “promising syllabus.” In The Elements of Teaching Writing, Katherine Gottschalk and Keith Hjortshoj explain how a syllabus should be focused on student learning rather than on covering the material for the course. In chapter one, they include some useful questions for professors to consider when designing a syllabus, and they explain why student writing should be integrated into the design of any course from the beginning. In chapter three of Mckeachie’s Teaching Tips, entitled “Countdown for Course Preparation,” McKeachie et al. offer a nuts and bolts approach that begins three months before the first meeting. All three books can be borrowed from CFCD.

Sample Bard Syllabi: While there is a wide variety of syllabi in use at the College, we have some samples here from courses in literature, chemistry, philosophy, biology, and art history.

Philosophy Course on Medical Ethics

Emily Dickinson Junior Seminar

100-Level Chemistry Course

400-Level Chemistry Course

Art History Methods Course

Literature Sequence Course

200-Level Literature Course

300-Level Literature Seminar

Biology 200-Level Course

Psychology 100-Level Course

Film and Video Course