A Look into College Course Development

Friends,

Another month, another post! This time around I’ll talk a little about the current status of some of my writing and planning for college courses I teach. I mentioned in my New Year’s post in January that I was about to begin writing an East Europe course. In addition to that, I’ll talk a little bit about other courses that will eventually come through the rotation that I’m excited to research and write for future semesters.

A Look at My Development of the East Europe Course

I will teach this course online in the Fall ’21 semester, so I wanted to devote enough time and care to writing the course as I did for the Contemporary Europe course in early 2020. Upon receiving feedback from that course, which was offered in the Fall ’20 semester, students liked the setup of the course, namely the variety of resources to offer alternative perspectives on various subjects and topics, as well as the availability of typed lectures and video recordings of me lecturing on shorthand notes drawn from those typed lectures. Students also appreciated my quick turnaround on grading and feedback for questions they had, as well as how accessible I was. I pride myself on these things, which I’ll continue to do in subsequent courses.

As for the lectures, it is a drawn out process. Particularly for the East Europe course, I started by investing in audio lectures from The Great Courses, which has a vast array of topics that anyone can invest in learning. The course I purchased addressed the history of Eastern Europe from Antiquity to the present day, which is the exact scope and time frame of the course I’m offering. The professor who gave these lectures offered insightful and helpful paths toward understanding the content; it made tying what I was learning to my prior knowledge much easier.

After taking notes on those lectures, I gather various sources (library books, online journal articles, documentaries on YouTube, etc.) to then mine them for passages of text or audio to weave into the narrative of the typed lecture. For this East Europe, I’m structuring it in a spiraled format, where the first four lectures establish the general history and illustrative concepts from Antiquity to the present day, followed by another four lectures that each address a particular theme in Eastern Europe history (empire, nationalism, communism, post-communism), which is then followed by the final four lectures that address case studies in specific countries or regions to further illustrate the history learned on a deeper level. This spiraled method allows for students to really learn the history through repetition by engaging the history through different contexts, lenses, and perspectives.

After a given lecture has taken shape and covers the desired content, I draw up shorthand notes from it into another document. I then record myself lecturing on these shorthand notes and post the recording in the system for the students to view in the corresponding week of the semester. Once all the lectures are recorded and the shorthand notes document is completed, I make a copy accessible to the students so they can utilize it for notes to study and keep (both for and after the class, especially for history majors), which students in the past have told me that they greatly appreciate. These lectures and the notes/recordings that stem from them take up the bulk of my time, but as with anything at this level it is a labor of love.

In addition to the lecture work, I read through a book or two that I’ll have the students read during the semester and then use when writing their research paper. In the case of the East Europe course, I’m actually trying something different by having a list of about ten books from which the students will choose one to read and write about by semester’s end. This method offers students some choice and variety, but also gets them engaging with rigorous reading and historical content; the written assignment is then the synthesis of their efforts, hopefully making them stronger students of history in the end. Given that there are way more books than usual, I chose to read one book from the list so I’m at least familiar with that book; at present I’m about halfway through Borderland: A Journey through the History of Ukraine, and it has been fascinating thus far. As part of the reading, I normally offer a guided reading of the book, so in this case I’ll offer a generic list of questions to consider for note-taking while reading.

I alluded before to the fact that I offer supplemental resources for students to work through in a given week. This normally is constituted by videos on YouTube (documentaries, Crash Course videos, interviews and roundtables, etc.), scholarly articles (oftentimes free sources from places like JSTOR or Google Scholar), and newspaper articles where appropriate (like from The Guardian, New York Times, or other credible outlets, some of which I try to pull from other countries to offer an unbiased perspective). In addition to these, I also try to include longer or more tertiary resources (like full 50-minute lectures from places like Yale University where they have a repository of free lectures in the archives) that students can really dig into if they’d like. When it comes down to it, students will get more out of the course the deeper they go…so I try to at least equip them to be able to do so.

File:Eastern Europe Map.jpg - Wikipedia
Map of Eastern Europe (Source: Wikipedia)

Once all of that work is complete (and the course is made available to me in the system), I upload and link all the needed documents and resources into the course so it’s ready for the students on Day 1 of the semester. Being that I’m working with college students, they tend to be more organized and self-sufficient in their interactions with the course and with me, but I try to make the layout of the course as streamlined and simple as possible so students can easily navigate and complete their work.

As it stands right now, I’m just about one-third of the way through the writing of the East Europe course. My goal is to be done by August 15 and then finalize everything in the system by August 20. I don’t yet know for sure when the first day of school is in the fall, but I’m guessing it’ll be August 23. At that point, I can dive into the semester and start to see the students learn what I had spent many months preparing and creating.

My plan after the semester starts is to circle back around to fine-tune some of the Western Civilization II coursework I had made for the summer offerings last year, but adjust them to fit into a semester-long course. But I’m sure I’ll address that in a later blog post, or at least I’ll address further developments in my college courses at a later time.

For those interested in a fun little trivia game about Eastern Europe, check out this trivia article from The Guardian. I hope you enjoyed getting a little insight into my course development process. Like I said, it is something I thoroughly enjoy and want to one day make my full-time job as a university professor.

Until next time,

Mike/”Eli”

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