At 4.30 this morning, I woke sharply and tensely. The needs of my fall semester course reeled through my mind. Classes start in a month.
I’ll teach this fall introduction to botany. It’s a course that serves our general education curriculum, which means that it can be taken by anyone, regardless of his or her science coursework background, to fulfill university science requirements. About half of the students who enroll have never had a biology course, and many these students are apprehensive, if not fearful, about science. It’s an opportunity to talk genially about material I thoroughly enjoy and to indulge in metaphors and stories to teach a few basic ideas about plants.
I plan to revise completely my lectures and with a colleague, with whom I alternate teaching the course every other year, I am revising the laboratories. The old laboratory manual hasn’t been working well for the students. We will create new laboratory exercises that emphasize investigation and experimentation. And I will prepare new lectures centered on about dozen concepts, and, of course, I’ll prepare the lectures in Powerpoint.
A year ago, I revised my plant diversity course to apply Powerpoint. Each of the 75-minute lectures for that course took about 18 hours to prepare. My three lectures per week this coming fall semester will each be 50 minutes, requiring, I expect, about 12 hours of preparation per lecture. That 12 hours of preparation, although difficult to think about in the middle of the summer, has been typical for all of the new lectures I’ve prepared for courses over the years.
With tea and toasted bagel at hand this morning at 5.00 a.m., I was drafting notes for laboratories. For a couple of laboratories, I wrote first the concepts to address and then sketched out possible exercises and materials we could use.
I walked to campus about 8.00 and pulled-out my lectures and syllabus from the last time I taught the course. Although I’m scheduled to teach this course every other year, because of the timing of my recent sabbatical leave, I last taught it four years ago. As I sorted through the old lectures, I wondered what could be scavenged to fit the new objectives and format for the course. I wondered also how to sequence of course concepts and how they would fit with the laboratories.
I turned-on my computer, opened Word, and listed my lecture dates. I blocked-out the concepts, largely giving one concept to each of the fifteen weeks of the semester, and tried to fit laboratory topics as closely as possible to the lecture material. It’s all so simple, so natural. Then I revised everything, adjusting the sequence, dividing a few themes, and I added some material on plant conservation and flora of the Pacific Northwest that I haven’t used before. I began to admire the schedule and held it at arm’s reach to get a good look – that’s when I recognized that no exams had been scheduled. I added the tests.
At the end of the afternoon, I typed ‘Syllabus’ in bold at the head of the lecture schedule. All I need to do now is write the lectures and laboratories.