The Course Package is designed to be the primary source of course materials

Course packages for university teachers provide great freedom in course design. Unlike traditional textbooks, course packages can take any form and can be designed to fit almost any topic, teaching method, or learning goal. These qualities, along with their reasonable cost, make course packages very popular among college educators. However, cost aside, many college students see course packages in an entirely different light. For students, many course packages are an intimidating maze of texts that are extremely confusing and difficult to navigate. If a course package is a collection of undifferentiated articles or separate book chapters without organizational labels, clear reading instructions, or chapter titles, students must struggle to construct the necessary contexts for understanding.

Carefully designed course packages can perform many different functions, depending on the instructor’s goals. Here are three basic types of course packages, along with a brief description of how they fit your course objectives.

In disciplines in which research produces new information at a rapid rate, such as in the health fields or the natural sciences, it may not be possible to cover as much in a single semester as the rapidly changing subject matter would seem to require. In these situations, particularly in postgraduate level courses, the instructor often needs to ask students to purchase a range of materials drawn from the most recent published research. Instructors generally treat this type of course package as a research tool that students refer to as needed, perhaps even after the course has finished.

If you plan to use a course package as a reference, you should carefully weigh the benefit of the contents to students in six months or a year, especially in relation to its cost. It may be more appropriate to use the Reference Pack as a tool for teaching students how to read and evaluate similar material and how to find more current material on their own. It may also be better to use parts of articles rather than entire articles. Not only does this reduce the size of the material and make clear your goal in providing the material to students, copying small sections of articles may not require a copyright permit or payment of royalties.

A professor in the Research Design and Applied Statistics course divides the course package into sections. Presents problem statements and hypotheses from many studies in one section of the course package, many different designs of different research problems (and similar research problems) in another, and study results and conclusions in other sections of the package. Thus, students see the application of design theory and methodology, learn to critique current research in the field, and master research writing forms and protocols. This type of course package is most valuable to students when they are conducting research outside of the classroom.

Another good use of a reference pack is to provide various materials for the different learning groups or ‘paths’ that students in a course may choose to follow. In a health policy law course, students may choose to study case law applicable to regulatory agencies, hospital responsibility, nursing home management, patient rights, etc. The course package contains case law from each of these areas, and students use different sections of the package to complete course assignments. Because students in the course have material from all topic areas, they may refer to other topics later as their interests or needs change.

The anthropology professor has developed six issue-oriented field projects as a central component of his studies. Together, the six projects represent a discrete set of cultural features of the studied area. In the course package, each of these six field projects is described in depth, including an overview of the topic and related topics and issues in a regional context; a descriptive objective of the project including strategies and ideas to guide fieldwork; forecasts and suggestions for reporting; and annotated bibliography. While each student pursues only one field project during the semester, the course package provides comprehensive information and resources on all six subject areas, allowing students to read about the issues and strategies involved in studying all six cultural traits of an area.

In subjects where textbooks do not provide sufficient coverage of the topics, a course package can supplement the central text. The most limited form is simply anthologies of essays or individual chapters from other texts, stories, or related documents. This type of course package can also provide an opportunity for students to read rare material not available in trade publications.

In expanded form, the companion package adds a new dimension to the traditional course. The teacher may use the package as a counterpoint to lectures and textbooks, with the goal of challenging students to consider different points of view and sources of evidence. In economics, for example, a teacher lecturing on a stock market analysis theory can, through careful planning and presentation, use the course package to provide rebuttal based on alternative models.

A business professor includes copies of all the overhead transparencies he uses in class, but leaves out specific portions of the lesson (including problem solutions) from each print, so students learn by adding course package handouts in class. Students are constantly engaged with the course in helpful ways and have a note-taking format that fits well with the instructions. This technology also allows students to listen and interact in class because they are not frantically copying notes from transparencies.

Another strategy complemented by the use of the accompanying package is to redirect class time from presentation of material to discussion of ideas and critical thinking. By creating a course package that contains photocopies of all of the teacher’s notes, media, and other support materials typically given in a lecture, teachers can devote class time to discussions related to higher education goals, such as analysis, synthesis, and assessment.

In its most integrated form, the Course Package is designed to be the primary source of course materials and a guide to content. It often consists of a selection of readings, a step-by-step syllabus with instructions for assignments, study questions, problems to solve, and collections of charts and diagrams for analysis and practice exam questions.

A course based on the case method, where students learn by applying concepts, theories, and abstract principles to real or simulated events, can be greatly improved by incorporating source material and class process information. The course guide serves as both a guide and a resource for exercises in problem-solving. In addition to outlining assignments and study strategies, the course guide provides material from various printed sources, such as newspapers, legal documents, company statistics, government data, photographs, court records, network data, manuscripts, and diaries. Students use this information to reconstruct disagreements based on a particular issue, and are asked to suggest ways to resolve them.

For example, a professor of public policy analysis has created a course package containing case studies of local public policy issues, such as the controversy over building a dam to improve the area’s water supply and controversy involving grades and graduation rates for varsity athletes. Using official reports, newspaper and magazine articles, and photographs, each case study was accompanied by a set of questions that the students had to address in preparation for class discussions.

This type of integrated course package is gaining popularity among faculty and colleges nationwide. An instructor in Mental Health Nursing has developed a course guide containing course policies, goals, daily lesson plans and objectives, and teaching strategies fully integrated with reading assignments, handouts, articles, study guides, case studies, guidelines for group work, and group assignments. The results of her student evaluations reflect how much the students appreciate her efforts; Ratings of course organization, use of teaching materials, in-class exercises, integration of reading and lectures, etc. have risen significantly.

Course Package Design Principles:

Consider the number of articles you list wisely. A narrow, focused selection of essays will be more useful and appreciated by students than a huge collection.

Provide context for the material. The table of contents, consistent pagination, and general introduction are very useful for communicating the structure of the course package. Individual introductions to each entry can show the entry’s relationship to the section in which it appears and cover background information that will help the student understand the context of the material.

Definition of terms and concepts. Providing a glossary of technical vocabulary and brief explanations of new concepts will complement students’ previous knowledge of the subject, greatly increasing their reading confidence, speed, and comprehension.

Include a reading strategy. Forms of discourse within a discipline require unique reading strategies, and the average student entering university needs guidance to read articles from academic journals meaningfully. An introduction to each assignment reading explaining the aims and procedures of research in the major, the purpose of journals in the majors, how journal articles are organized to serve that purpose, and how to use an abstract if available can speed learning and accelerate student progress through the material.

Use clear and legible images. Production quality affects the readability, interest and usefulness of a course package. Cut large black borders from copying text to save ink and space for jotting notes. Avoid drastic changes in formatting from one page to the next. Whenever possible, cut and paste to make sure the diagrams are neat and easy to follow. Shrink no more than two pages of text to an 8 1/2″ x 11″ page. Visual images, such as transparencies and overhead slides, with low contrast between figure and background (as do dark backgrounds) do not reproduce well in course packages.

Provide study questions for the subject. Study questions will help students focus on what you intend them to learn from a given assignment. If students are new to the material, you may need to structure the questions to move from simple questions that elicit facts, descriptions, and definitions to complex questions that require analysis, synthesis, and judgment.

– Update course package frequently. Since you will be republishing the course package each term, try to take the opportunity to review the materials for currentness and revise them based on student feedback about the package and course. You can also use this cadence to build your course package over several terms, adding new features, such as syllabus and other handouts, with each term.

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