Connecting Course Materials to Students’ Needs
By Bruce A. Johnson, Ph.D., MBA
Materials Provided for Your Class
When an adjunct instructor is assigned a course they are often provided with course materials that may include a textbook, syllabus, articles, websites, or other resources. Do you review these materials prior to the start of class? How do you decide that you have been given enough materials to effectively facilitate the process of learning? These initial resources are typically developed by a curriculum designer and provided as a means of helping students meet specific learning objectives. Course materials provide instructors with an effective starting point for facilitation of the class and through the process of interacting with these resources it may become necessary to find supplemental materials that help connect students with the course topics.
Why Course Materials are Important
The course materials provide a foundational knowledge base for students and the instructor to refer to when preparing for assignments and class discussions. A traditional approach to the use of assigned readings requires students to memorize information and recite it for class assessments. These resources can also be utilized as a springboard for learning and knowledge creation when students are encouraged to work with the materials, comprehend what they are reading, and experience cognitive development.
What Instructors Do With Course Materials
Instructors are expected to be familiar with the course materials and help students interact with the information in a way that the subject matter comes to life when it is related to real world issues, examples, situations, and their own professional examples. Class discussions and written assignments provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate what resources they have worked with and the knowledge they have acquired. This allows instructors to make a determination if the current materials provide enough information to promote learning and a deeper understanding of the course topics.
Enhancing the Course Materials
As the class progresses instructors may provide supplemental resources such as articles, website links, or additional books as a means of furthering students’ understanding of the core concepts presented in the assigned readings and application of the course topics to real-world settings. These resources may include credible information from outside sources or postings that have been developed by the instructor. In a traditional classroom, instructors have an opportunity to deliver a lecture, which allows them to present information directly to the students in an environment where they can offer insight, guidance, and clarification. Within an online classroom environment students are expected to find the materials and then demonstrate that they are able to interact effectively with that information.
For the online classroom, instructors may consider enhancing the course materials provided by developing their own overviews and summaries. The lecture-based approach to classroom facilitation can be adapted to the online classroom through the use of an overview or preview message can help students look ahead at the upcoming week and the key concepts that will be explored. These messages can offer tips, pointers, and suggestions to help prepare students for interacting with the materials. After the class week has concluded, a summary or wrap-up can be provided that helps students reflect upon the previous week and the learning objectives that should have been met. A wrap up message could also be used to summarize key points addressed in the discussion boards and important topics that students should be familiar with from the assigned readings and materials.
Evaluating Supplemental Materials
How do you evaluate the supplemental materials you are considering for your class? When an instructor considers adding resources it is important to evaluate the relevancy, source, and credibility of the information. Articles that have been peer-reviewed are likely to be credible sources of information. Websites can be evaluated by examining such criteria as the author’s credentials, affiliations, and potential for bias.
Course Materials: A Developmental Perspective
One of the most important considerations for evaluating the resources and materials needed for your class is the ability of those sources to meet the developmental needs of your students. When students interact with those materials are they able to comprehend the information, meet the learning objectives, and develop new knowledge? Because adult learners are self-directed in nature they often come to the classroom with personal and professional needs, with specific knowledge that needs to be acquired. In addition, another purpose of the materials is to prompt cognitive development and this occurs when students are encouraged to relate the materials to the real world. Instructors will find it helpful to periodically review the sources used from the students’ perspective and consider adding timely and relevant resources that would supplement the materials provided by the curriculum designer, which can enhance class discussions and deepen the interactive process of learning.
About the Mentor: Dr. Bruce Johnson has had a life-long love of learning and throughout his entire career he has been involved in many forms of adult education; including teaching, training, human resource development, coaching, and mentoring. Dr. J has completed a master’s in Business Administration and a Ph.D. in the field of adult education, with an emphasis in adult learning within an online classroom environment. Presently Dr. J works as an online adjunct instructor, faculty developmental workshop facilitator, and faculty mentor.