Curriculum Design (Week 2)

University 101 1. Life Lists 2. Curriculum Design

Last week we worked on Life Lists. It’s a good idea to do that once a year. This time next year you might be able to cross off some of those 1-year goals and bring some of those 5-year goals down to your 1-year list. For those of you looking to accomplish something specific, this week I invite you to do a little of your own Curriculum Design.

Curriculum is Responsibility

The great thing about Medici Virtual University is that we don’t hand curriculum design down from on high, like some sacred tablets coming off a mountain. Instead we empower you to decide what’s relevant and useful for your goals. For your life. The reason Medici University would probably fail as an RL university is that most college students aren’t ready to write their own curriculum. They don’t want that much power. They don’t want that much freedom. They don’t want that much personal responsibility. RL students might complain about “jumping through hoops,” or “irrelevant courses,” but many don’t really want to take the responsibility of defining what is useful and relevant for themselves. By signing up with MU, you’ve taken the 1st step toward taking charge of your own education.

The Class of ’15 has a wide range of goals. Some might just want to show work, others have specific abilities they’d like to develop. Whether you have a clear list of 10 things you want to learn and master, or a more generic “show my work” type of goal, I think everyone at MU has goals. So let’s be specific about those goals and then break down the steps and elements to getting there. If you need knowledge you don’t have, you might want to read books, take MOOCs, or do online research. For gaining experience you might make a list of activities you should accomplish.

Curriculum is Details

You could say that Life List = Goals and that Curriculum = Details (of how to reach those goals)

So my Goal might be to become a published writer in X time frame. The details of how to get there might include:

  • Read a novel a week
  • Write 1,000 words a day
  • Check out a new literary journal every week, see their submission guidelines, see who and what they tend to publish
  • Find a MOOC that focuses on Creativity in your writing
  • Find a Website that focuses on mechanics or grammar
  • and so on (this would be a lot for a part-time writer, BTW!)

Reading a novel a week or writing 1,000 words a day could be “Goals,” but how satisfied would you be at accomplishing them? You might well feel pretty good, but I think they’re really more like stepping stones to your larger goal. Anyway, don’t get hung up in my semantics. But I do think that if you try to have specific, concrete Goals, then you can assemble Curriculum / Details to get you there.

Curriculum can be Active

I favor activity based learning. I once had a teaching assistant, Bob, who was a psychology major. Bob complained about his psych statistics class. It was hard. He was sure it was irrelevant to his life and career. It was just pointless pain he was being forced to get to the other side of. As far as I know, stat is pretty fundamental to psych, so it certainly wasn’t a crazy requirement on the part of the Psychology Department. Even so, for at least 1 student, and probably plenty of others, the department hadn’t made the connection. Bob might have managed to pass the class. It’s unlikely he’d really learn anything valuable in that context. “Trust us, you’ll need this some day,” might be true, but it’s a pretty weak position to come from. It’s not the way to create passion and true, deep learning.

What if the Psychology Department had turned that all upside down? What if they said, “Why do you want to be a psychologist? What do you want to know?” And then invited the student to dive into the life of the many thousands of students on campus with a clip board and some questions they’d written. No stat class first. No experimental design class first. No constructing questionnaires and test instruments class first. Just, ok, you’ve got curiosity, interest, passion. So pose a question. Go get some student responses. Oh!? Now you have lots of data. What will you do with it? Maybe you should research how to do statistics and analyze that data.

In this paradigm, the student might still learn psychology statistics. But it wouldn’t be “we know it’s hard and boring, but trust us, you might need it some day.” Instead it would be How can I find out more about stats!?!? I have so much data I want to analyze and so many answers I’d like to tease out of it!

So far this semester we have students studying in 17 different majors. Whether your passion is Creative Writing, Photographic Arts, or one of the other 15 majors, try not to start with the “stat classes” but with the “research goals” and trace the goals, or flowers on your blooming tree of knowledge back to the roots that will help you get there.

17 Weeks

Our semester at MU has 20 weeks left. Goals like Show my work more or Become a better writer are good. They’re also a little soft. Try to make clear, specific, achievable goals. Be ambitious, but also realistic about your time. Are you committing 2 hours a night, 3 times a week, after work? Is this your full time job? If one person is putting in 6 hours a week, and another 60, obviously what you can accomplish in the next 20 weeks will be very different.

If you’re a writer, can you read 17 books in the next 17weeks? If you’re a portrait photographer, can you shoot 17 new portraits in the next 17 weeks?

What platforms can you use to learn about and present these goals? Your blog. MU/Talk. A MOOC. A book site like GoodReads. A photo site like 500px. A discussion or critique group that you start in your MU Studio.

screen cap of Yale University School of Art website
Image: Yale University School of Art by Roy Schribner

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