Wednesday, 24 September 2014

re-thinking the role of course content

Maryellen Weimer has a good post on The Teaching Professor Blog today that discusses the role of content in our courses. It is a reflection on a recent article published in the History Teacher by Peter Burkholder. Basically both Weimer and Burkholder advocate for using course content in a myriad of ways. This echoes Weimer's argument for the same in her 2013 book Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice. In there she asserts that as professionals we still must ensure that our students learn the knowledge of our disciplines necessary for them to take their place in the work-world. However, this same course content should also be used as a vehicle to teach students how to think, communicate, research and the other general education skills that are so sought after by employers. So, rather than lecturing for content delivery, as educators we need to consider how to design learning experiences for our students such that they learn the knowledge within different contexts becoming comfortable and capable with using that knowledge in a variety of ways: to clearly communicate a position, as a basis for researching a question, to inform their thinking, to be able to work in teams.

So how do this? The Burkholder article provides a number of different teaching strategies, none of which will be new to readers of this blog. All are active learning in nature and all involve some aspect of flipping the classroom, backwards design, class discussion, immediate feedback, and group testing. One teaching strategy he notes in his article called the "Castle-top" model looks remarkably similar to Team-Based Learning in which students prepare before class, take a test as an individual and within a team followed by application of the learned material in class.

Our courses are not only about teaching our students disciplinary content. They are also about providing venues for our students to become thinkers, researchers, and communicators. This is what is going to enable our students to succeed once they leave the university - these gen ed skills are transferable to other diverse contexts to a far greater extent than the disciplinary knowledge they learn.


Burkholder P. 2014 A content means to a critical thinking end: Group quizzing in history surveys. The History Teacher, 47(4): 551-578. Available from

Weimer M. 2014. Diversifying the Role Course Content Plays. The Teaching Professor Blog, Sept 24. Available from

Weimer M. 2013. The Function of Content. In Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice (2nd ed., pp. 114–142). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.