New shoes, or, redundancy in lesson planning

04 Dec 2014

This post comes to you via a twitter conversation that occurred on Tuesday. To summarize: it takes a lot of prep to teach well. In the case of Software Carpentry where instructors are teaching lessons from a sort of base template, the extent of that prep (re-writing, etc.) can seem inefficient. The question I want to ask is: is it? Should a SWC instructor be able to pick up a lesson plan and just execute it?

I tried to answer that question using a metaphor: thinking of lesson plans like new shoes, or perhaps more aptly, something like ski boots + skis, with adjustable bindings. Someone may hand the basically complete object to you, but before you can use it, you’ve got to break them in (in the case of the shoes) or fit it to your feet (in the case of the skis/ski boots). Similarly, you may get a fully formed lesson plan with objectives and examples and still feel the need to re-work sections, tweak the order, and concoct one extra example to make it work for you. We may have to at least repaint the wheel, even though we definitely want to avoid reinventing it!

The better question is then: what kind of base will allow people to “fit” lesson plans to themselves without too much extra effort? I don’t have any answers for that one. My strongest instinct is that customizable lesson plans should be a little bit like Mad Libs - a story where you get to fill in the verbs. That would look like a basic outline of learning objectives, and then a “bank” of learning and evaluation activities to fill out the blanks in between. If an instructor wanted to do minimal prep, the best “default” activities in the bank could be indicated and slotted in.

On the other hand, maybe it is most desirable to have a one-size-fits-all kind of lesson plan, and continue to refine it as a community. I’d be interested in more discussion around this…

reflections » teaching, lessons, Software Carpentry,

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