Selecting Course Themes

Guiding Questions

Questions to test themes for reasoning and writing in the College:

  1. Is the theme interesting to you (the instructor) and likely to be interesting to students?
  2. Does the theme truly support open inquiry?
    1. Do theme-related readings inspire questions that have more than one reasonable answer?
    2. Is the theme accessible (no need for special expertise, appropriate for first-year student level)?
    • Potential problem: Excessively disturbing content makes thinking and writing emotionally difficult.
  3. Does the instructor's relationship to the topic make students' open inquiry possible?
    1. Is the instructor able to encourage inquiry into interpretations and positions that differ from their own?
    2. Do students feel able to discover meanings and argue for conclusions that differ from the instructor's?
    • Potential problem: Instructor knows the topic too well; content—not writing an inquiry—drives the course.
  4. Does the theme promote sustained interest and engagement across the semester?
    1. Does the theme allow variation in problems or questions?
    2. Is the theme open to students from different disciplinary, gender, race, religion, cultural, educational, and language backgrounds?
    3. Does the theme allow for different kinds of texts? (think genre and multi-modal)
    4. Does the theme lend itself to separating the course experience into a series of related sub-themes?
    • Potential problems:
      • A single, limited focus or single line of inquiry closes off possibilities for inquiry or feels too repetitive.
      • The theme has short-term interest, but little potential for deep engagement through analysis or argument.