If It Isn't Broken, Don't Fix It

One of the schools I teach for originally had a canned curriculum from which all instructors taught . The content was good overall and obviously written by professionals.  There were a few assignments that seemed to always cause confusion, but I quickly learned to just expand upon the directions in my weekly introductory post.
The problem with this pre-designed course work is that students save their work and trade with friends, so pretty soon there is almost a black market for the assignments. The Internet has become the new sorority/fraternity file cabinet (you know the one where all the returned tests and assignments were stored). If assignments do not change, too many correct answers start circulating. The facilitators have to be extra vigilant and watch for those repeated assignments. I always worried about papers with my comments ending up in another instructors class and vice versa. As a matter of fact, the instructors found a site that would sell the Week 5 assignment for $5.00.  Students were wasting their money; a colleague bought the assignment and graded it with his rubric and it earned a solid F. This was a great story to tell students at the beginning of class and I hope it scared a few.
Last fall, this school started allowing us to change the curriculum and I was really excited.  I knew exactly which assignments were the ones I wanted to change and was happy to update some of the discussion questions. I write all my own material for all my other schools, so I did not figure this would present any challenges for me and I jumped in head-first. I could finally remove change that assignment about media bias and try and make the learning more relevant.  I could find a better topic than Terri Schiavo for my discussion on moral relativism.  I was going to improve my course!
I am now finishing up my first classes where I have changed the content from what was designed by the school and I am beginning to think it was not all that bad to begin with.  I may have made the assignment on bias even more confusing.  I only say that because I had a even higher number of calls for clarification on that one than in the past.  Maybe the original assignment was not the problem, but the readings on bias and slants.  Maybe what needs improving is the textbook and I should just be posting some notes to assist with that. These are some things I am considering before I teach the class again. I also miss some of the debate that was present in the past.  Yes, I had to watch things closely and ensure that people were not being insulting to one another, however, the exchanges were teaching the students valuable lessons.  Learning how to disagree with tact and back your opinions with facts are important lessons for everyone.  Did I take some of that away from the students?
I am going to go back to most of the pre-written canned curriculum next time.  I am changing some grading values and placing more points into assignments that I find valuable.  I am going to write some more dynamic weekly introductions and wrap-ups. I am going to remember that my bosses do trust my judgment and now allow me to make changes.  I also realize that there is some really good material waiting for me to use.  Why change what is working just because I can? I am not ashamed to admit that the curriculum designers did a pretty darn good job.  Besides, it really does keep the workload down to use what is already designed.  I know I reuse my own materials in the statistics classes that I teach over and over at Major Engineering Institute, so how is this really any different?
I will be anxiously awaiting the next healthy debate over living wills in my classroom.  I can now clearly see where the learning was coming from and I can appreciate the intent of the lesson. I know many instructors feel that pre-formed lessons are an infringement on academic freedoms. Many online faculty will avoid the schools that force usage of canned curricula.  I was one who used to feel that way, but I have changed my mind.  I am willing to debate it if you would like.

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