Teaching Tip: Why should Students take Your Course? How do Courses in Your Major Contribute to Common Learning Goals?

Do students ever ask, Why am I required to take this course? If you teach a required course, you have an easy answer, You can’t earn a major in xxx without it. However, this answer invites a second question, Why is this course required for this major?

Departments have good reasons for why students must take specific courses. The program’s curriculum map describes which required courses contribute to the learning outcomes intended for all students who complete the major. Most curriculum maps identify two or more courses that contribute to specific student learning outcomes. For example, a program might have the following learning outcome: Students can locate and analyze evidence from appropriate sources to create arguments and make decisions about theories and models in the discipline. This learning outcome describes a complex skill. Students will not master this skill in a single course. Instructors design the curriculum to provide students with opportunities to practice and develop these skills in several courses. How are these courses related?

The intentional curriculum

Like a good story, a coherent academic curriculum has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The collected content of required courses reflects the underlying organization of disciplinary knowledge. Ideally, students connect the ideas and skills they encounter in their major courses. Students should develop an organized, coherent system of knowledge and related skills in thinking and communication by the time they complete their course work.

Have a conversation with colleagues who teach different courses in your program that support common program-level learning goals. How do the courses students complete early in the program prepare them to meet expectations in your course? How does you course prepare students for tasks they will encounter in courses they take after your course?

Discuss the instruction and assignments assigned in these courses. How do these assignments guide student progress toward mastery of a student learning outcome? Collaborate with colleagues and coordinate the assignments you create so that each instructor can build on prior learning and prepare students as they develop their expertise.

Make curriculum goals and relations between courses explicit for students

Too often, students “clean house” at the end of a course. They submit their final exam and begin discarding information they believe they will never use again. When you tell students about assignments and learning outcomes for your course, be explicit about how your course connects to other courses students will take. Talk about the skills students learned in prior courses that you expect them to use in your course. Remind students that future instructors will expect their students to use the skills they developed in your class to complete work in the next class.

When we make the connections between courses explicit, we help students become more intentional learners. Students will be more likely to retain skills across courses and recognize how to apply their skills to real-world problems if they develop connections between knowledge and skills they acquire in multiple classes.

Submitted by:
Claudia J. Stanny, Ph.D., Director
Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment
University of West Florida
Pensacola, FL
(850) 473-7435