Monday, December 12, 2011

Writing my own curriculum: Part 1

I was reading an article from Good.is today about how the administration at UMass took the problem of bloated textbook prices into their own hands by offering faculty grants to develop their own course materials. The goal is that a professor creates their own materials and them makes them available to students for almost nothing and then the professor then gets paid by the university for doing so. The article says that UMass spent $10K in grants and this investment will reduce costs for students by $72K over the next school year.

When I was in college I was an English Education major and the majority of my literature and education classes didn't use textbooks, so I didn't spend the $1000 per school year the article said was average. Obviously my lit classes used regular books (which they spied up by calling authentic texts, which really just means they are real pieces of literature and not the watered-down crap they put in K-12 lit textbooks) and my education classes were taught mostly through project based learning. The fact that classes to prepare teachers don't use textbooks should imply that UMass is on the right track for both educational and financial reasons: What a refreshing mix of business and education playing together.

At my new job I don't have a textbook to teach from. Actually, very few of the classes have textbooks that they use to structure their whole curriculum. Most of the core classes (minus English and Religion) have a textbook that they can consult, but everyone relies on these as a secondary resource to their own materials. There is probably a set of speech textbooks in a closet somewhere that was bough by some previous teacher, but I didn't even go looking: I knew what I wanted my kids to learn and found ways to get them there.

I will admit, as a dedicated teacher can, that the way I envisioned things was not exactly how they ended up. But really it was the way I taught the content that I would like to rearrange and modify next time around, not the course materials. Actually, I would like to use a lot more of what I have already started. Also, I didn't design everything on my own but rather used a lot of free online content from sources like Six Minutes: Speaking and Presentation Skills, Toastmasters International, The Purdue OWL (online writing lab), and of course TED. On a side note, if you aren't familiar with TED you should be. Its a great site with videos about anything and everything you could ever possibly be interested in. I followed all the Fair Use guidelines for copywrited material  and did a lot of my own additions and subtractions to the articles. The main point is that I used them as a professor would use an article from a professional journal. They were not my only source of information because I am a qualified expert in my field. I just used them as supplements to the activities where the learning truly took place.

So, what I'm trying to say is that UMass, you are doing an honorable thing finding ways to keep the absurd costs of higher education down. I know that creating your own curriculum is a ton of work. As a former undergrad soon to be graduate student who cares about the educational future of my students I applaud you on your commitment to keeping education the focus over revenue.

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