Selecting Course Themes
Questions to test themes for reasoning and writing in the College:
- Is the theme interesting to you (the instructor) and likely to be interesting to students?
- Does the theme truly support open inquiry?
- Do theme-related readings inspire questions that have more than one reasonable answer?
- 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.
- Does the instructor's relationship to the topic make students' open inquiry possible?
- Is the instructor able to encourage inquiry into interpretations and positions that differ from their own?
- 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.
- Does the theme promote sustained interest and engagement across the semester?
- Does the theme allow variation in problems or questions?
- Is the theme open to students from different disciplinary, gender, race, religion, cultural, educational, and language backgrounds?
- Does the theme allow for different kinds of texts? (think genre and multi-modal)
- 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.