How to Design an English Course for Academic Purposes

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Designing an academic English course can be challenging, but ultimately a well-designed course will be rewarding for both the professor and student. Many variables affect how you will design your course, including class level and the level of degree you are designing the course for. Regardless of those variables, designing an English course requires attention to class goals, materials and methods of evaluating student performance.

1 Decide the scope

Decide what the scope of class is going to be. Often, newly designed courses focus on a particular theme or topic (nature writing, religious poetry, Shakespeare, or writing about literature). If your class is going to be on technical or professional writing, determine what specific elements of technical writing you want to focus on. If your course is focused on a broad subject such as literature, determine what the focus of the course will be: poetry, women's writing or a literary period. Having an identifiable scope for your class will allow you to structure the course in a coherent way that will elicit specific results.

2 Decide you

Decide what you want your students to get out of the class. These "student learner outcomes" should guide what you read and the assignments you give. For a writing course, you might want your students to demonstrate their ability to write in various modes of rhetoric; for a literature class, you might want your students to demonstrate knowledge of the material itself, the historical context of the literature and the criticism written about that literature. Students are also typically expected to demonstrate critical thinking and effective writing skills. Write these student learner outcomes down, and base the remainder of your course design on these projected outcomes. Remember to keep your target audience in mind; your student learner outcomes for a freshman course may be very different from a graduate course.

3 Choose key readings for the course

Choose key readings for the course. Based on your student learner outcomes and the class level of the course (freshman, senior, graduate), you should choose class materials that will help students reach the outcomes you desire. If historical context is important to your course, consider assigning books that discuss the history of a period; if knowledge of previous criticism is important, assign secondary research for your students to read. Consult online book stores to locate the the specific editions of the books you want your students to use. Write the ISBN numbers for the editions you decide on, and follow your university's procedure for ordering class textbooks. Find out what the duration of the course will be and come up with a rough, per-week reading schedule for your students.

4 Decide on your methods of assessment

Decide on your methods of assessment. The only way to determine whether your student learner outcomes are being reached is to have a way to assess your students. Your assessments should, once again, reflect the outcomes you desire. If effective writing is an outcome you want, then you should have assignments that assess writing skills, such as a research paper, journal assignments and exam questions that feature essays. If knowledge of the primary text is essential, exams are an appropriate assessment tool. Critical thinking might be assessed through multiple types of assessments: exams, class participation and a research paper.

5 Work

Work on a written syllabus that provides all the course information on which you have decided. Provide a course overview with the student learner outcomes stated, the assessment methods that will determine whether those outcomes have been met and a week-by-week schedule of readings and assignments. Provide a list of the texts for the class with ISBN numbers included (although university bookstores will typically order the specific edition you require, some students will order their own books online). Don't forget to also include other information, such as penalties for academic misconduct and any electronic components to the class you are requiring. You may also wish to include the URLs for specific sites on which students can locate required or supplemental resources.

Jake Damon has his Ph.D. in English from Texas Tech University. Damon has been a writer and editor since 1998. He edits two professional journals, has published books including "Catullan Consciousness" and "Re-Reading Thomas Traherne," and written articles for various academic and trade presses, including Oxford University Press, Associated University Presses and the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Arizona State University.