Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Proposing Courses Question

Please do not take this as a rude or horrible example of stealing someone else's work in that I am reposting wholesale Dr. Koshary's interesting job market question:
How do you differentiate between courses you'd offer to undergrads, and those you'd offer to grad students?
Or, more generally, what are you looking for in sample course syllabi, course blurbs, or course proposals when or if you request them of job applicants?

I had thought that they should always try to sound as mysterious and intriguing as possible, but I have no clue if that's what search committees want or if they want a tried and true standard. I do know that I have stumbled on discussing teaching before, unless it's comp. I always have things to say about comp, most of which is unprintable. But you never accuse me of coming off as vague or not having opinions. On the other hand, I often draw a blank in interviews when trying to propose an upper-division course or plan how to structure the survey.

And also reposted, just because it's so damn true:

I don't know if other disciplines will recognize this trend, but in my world, I also note that grad courses often sound way sexier and cooler than undergrad offerings. Look at the catalog, and you'll see undergrad courses like:

Complexification Subfield A
Topics in Complexification Subfield B
Survey of Complexification Subfield C

Flip over to the grad courses, though, and you'll see:

Two Apparently Unconnected Things Juxtaposed to Suggest an Insidious and Fascinating Structural Relationship
Going Beyond All This Subfield Shit
Broadside Critiques of Complexification Studies by Its Own Practitioners

And so on.

So true. And in lit grad courses you might even see a single-word title (Power.), or maybe even a list of them, fragmented with periods (Sex. Deviance. Poetry.), which these same professors would cheerfully commit murder over should they see this as the title of some undergraduate's essay.

Dr. Koshary has further questions to round out the topic of proposing grad and undergrad courses. So, could you go on over there and give the guy some encouragement and advice? And, you could also leave some suggestions for me over here, too, hint hint!


Anastasia said...

Yeah, you know...I kind of hate that trend. As a grad student, I think my most useful courses weren't the sexy variety but rather the "Approaches to Standard Topic" variety. Not that sexy is bad. It's just that sometimes I felt like I was learning how to deconstruct my discipline without ever learning how to practice it.

Bardiac said...

Thanks for the link. :)

I put an answer over there. I hope it's helpful. (Gosh, it was LONG!)

Horace said...

I have two answers to your second question, though the first answer may respond to both. Having been on both sides of the table now, I think the easiest way to think about it is the clear sense of a shift from breadth to depth. That is undergraduate courses have wider gaps in their knowledge and require (and can often only comprehend) less in the way of depth. So 200-level may be "Drama," 300-level is "Modern Drama," 600-level (MA) may be political theatre in the 20th century. and 700 level (PhD Seminar) may be "documentary theatre and political activism."

In fact running a couple of these sequences top to bottom for yourself might help you pitch those courses. Rules of thumb for pitching them is to cast your net as broadly as you can to show how many teaching gaps you might be able to fill, but never cast any further than you could reliably teach or intelligently talk about teaching, because very little makes you look worse in an interview than claiming to be able to cover a course for which you are patently underprepared.

And Why do grad courses sound sexier? Because you've done grad school. They sound sexier because you as a reader are deep enough into the field to find them sexy. Those ideas may find their way into the undergrad class (I teach Anna Deavere Smith at every level from 100-level comp up to 700-level grad classes), but the sophistication and specificity of the framing of the course is likely most appealing for their desired audience.

reassignedtime said...

I left a comment over at Koshary's, but I'll leave one over here, too.

Here's the thing. I do think it depends on the department. With that caveat in place, though, I'll tell you that at my teaching-oriented place (and I think this is very much the case at most teaching-oriented places) we want to see a mix of practicality and enthusiasm. So, for example, the core of our major requires survey courses. Anyone being interviewed will likely be asked how they'd teach the survey that fits them. Those who talk about this successfully tend to do two things:
1) They address the practical concerns of a survey (needing broad coverage, dealing with students of varying interest and ability levels, assignments) and 2) How do you excite students about taking a survey course? What sorts of things excite you about teaching such a course and how do courses like that connect to your more specific research interests (even if only in very abstract ways)?

Mystery is not what I'm looking for, and I don't think it's what my colleagues are looking for. That says, I don't think we have a precise answer in mind about what you must discuss. When you talk about your teaching, we're seriously trying to get to know YOU and to get a sense of how our students would respond to you. Mystery does not assist us in evaluating those things, so I would not encourage cultivating mystery. It just makes us feel like we don't know what you'd do in the classroom.

As for why undergrad classes sound more vague and grad classes sound sexier in their titles, I'd say that's because the emphasis in assessment from accrediting bodies has trended toward the undergraduate curriculum at this point - a program just can't get away with having lots of sexy courses in the catalog that don't get offered at least every other year. So the bland titles are deceptive: they are a way of satisfying accrediting agencies and of masking the interesting stuff happening in those classes. That has been less of a necessity at the grad level (so far) but I see that probably the next time we come around for accreditation (like 7 years) that probably that will be the next thing that SACS goes after, or at least it seems that way.

Shane in Utah said...

Hmmm. At my institution, both grad classes and undergrad classes have pretty boring titles in the catalog listing. I'm teaching a grad class now with the official title "World Literature and Culture," for example. It's in the subtitles (which generally don't appear on transcripts) that the sexy catchphrases start to appear.

If there is a trend toward sexier titles at the graduate (and advanced undgergrad?) level, I think it's partly an enrollment issue: my undergrad classes fill up within minutes of registration opening, just because they're required for so many English majors. But if grad classes and senior seminars don't sound sexy and appealing, they might not make, and I'm suddenly teaching a freshman class at the last minute. My colleagues make up fancy posters for their grad classes to hang all over the English building for the same reasons...

Dr. Koshary said...

Sis, you are *awesome* for reposting this! I've never had such breadth of response before. It's actually too much for me to process tonight after hours of intensely academic conversation over several glasses of Torront├ęs.

I'll give everyone thorough consideration and response tomorrow!

Lucky Jane said...

At my shop, grad courses go by broad rubrics, like "Historical Approaches" or "Textualities." Like Shane, my colleagues and I determine what goes behind the colon, which is invariably much more specific and sexier (though one of my students called my course's title "whimsical," and I'm a little miffed he's right).

On (and off) the market, I've found it useful to think of grad courses as ones that I could write a book about. I'd be a fool to attempt a book about every undergrad course I've ever taught, apart from senior seminars.

Dr. Koshary said...

Ah, it seems that Dr. Crazy, Shane and Jane are all on the same page: sexiness can (and maybe should) be reserved for the subtitle and underlying theme of a seemingly broad and bland course title. That would make a good deal of sense in many cases, since I gather that many departments like to offer those broad categorical courses regularly, with the understanding that each professor will have a different intervention to make under that umbrella title. The bit about accreditation is still obscure to me, but only because I've never seen that process up close. No doubt in a few years I'll know more than I wanted to about that.

Shane may also be right that there's a mercenary, territorial aspect to those sexier-than-thou grad courses, but again, I won't know about that stuff until I run headlong into it.