Compiling course outlines is a learning process in itself. Discuss.

Term is over here, but the wheel never stops turning. This week, I’ve been working on putting together course handbooks for my students for next term as well as preparing for a supervision tomorrow and thinking ahead to next term’s confirmation of status (graduate progression assessment). I also received some good funding news from the AHRC for a project for 2013 – more on that another time.

Today, I thought I’d take a break from my usual thesis blethering to talk about compiling course handbooks, specifically for tutoring in Oxford. So far, I’ve put together three handbooks for three visiting students who have (or will) each work with me one-to-one.

There doesn’t seem to be any magic formula, but from conversations with other part-time tutors, I’ve developed a framework for a handbook which tells the students most of everything they need to know for their course. I’ve included my contact details, details of where we will meet, an overview of the course content and aims, information on assessment, grade boundaries and essay deadlines, a reading list for each week, and essay questions.

The benefits for the student are obvious. From my own time as an undergraduate I know how reassuring it can be to have everything gathered in one place and all the expectations laid out from the start. I find it reassuring as a tutor too, because I know the student should have everything they need in one place. In addition, putting together a course makes me excited about the term ahead, and my favourite part is selecting a suitable and provocative image for the cover page. Having things formalized in this way makes me feel confident in the direction the course will take.

However, like many part time tutors, the topics I’m teaching are disparate, and often more than a little outside of my immediate specialism.* Compiling the reading list can be a challenge because of this, and, when I am preparing the course outline I have to acknowledge gaps in my own knowledge which I must rectify. It is time consuming and setting a selection of essay questions for each week that will encourage insightful responses can be difficult.

Quite apart from my attempts to bring some sense of order to my tutorials, next term I’ll also be teaching some final year extended essay students who are starting to take on responsibility for module direction themselves. I’m looking forward to comparing the two very different teaching formats.

*If you are one of my students and you are reading this, please rest assured things will fine. They will.

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