Principles of Course Design
When I plan a course, I work backwards. Typically I work out a list of learning outcomes and then determine the discrete mix of experiences necessary to help students achieve those goals. By “experiences,” I mean the range of in-class activities, field trips, readings, and conversations that cumulatively build towards knowledge and skill mastery. Consideration for my relationship with the students also comes into play. A seminar class could involve a mentor role, whereas a workshop might mean acting as a facilitator. Determining how I will engage with individual students and with the class as a whole has implications for classroom and assignment policies. Because these determinations affect the class atmosphere on a daily basis, I intend to write my policies anew for every syllabus.
Current Work in Course Design
Of all portfolio elements, my syllabi most vividly portray the fusion of research and teaching that characterizes my academic activities. “Edible/Poltical: Understanding Fascism through Food” and “European Modernism: Style in Architecture, Literature, and Film” both demonstrate how I break down major research projects into a series of successively linked lessons and independent activities. My students and I explicitly discuss how the course’s arc gradually increases their independence over the course of the semester. This shift grants them greater freedom to select their own materials and approach as their research and planning skills improve. These syllabi also highlight how I use technology to further learning goals, such as fostering communication between students and field experts. Tools like Podcasts, Wikis, and blogs encourage learning outside the classroom and after the course’s last lesson by offering authentic materials and student autonomy. To write these syllabi, I tried to imagine my students in June rather than in September. What did they need to know to successfully conduct multimedia research? Which projects, readings, and conversations will help them to reach that point? Step by step, I reconstructed the journey, all the way back to the first day of class. I spent time trouble-shooting the number, order, and variety of activities, repeatedly questioning, “What could go awry? How can I address that issue?” Finally, I eliminated one-third of the reading materials and two regular activities. Time permitting, we could select among these for extra credit projects or research preparation. My preference lies in covering less territory with greater depth to encourage students’ mastery of a few, key texts and skills.
Future Plans for Course Design
In the future, I would be excited to develop an undergraduate survey course exploring women’s roles in World War II, an upper-level course theorizing postcolonial women writers and the legacy of Italian East Africa, as well as seminars in architectural and filmic archival research.
My proposed course “Prada, Vespa, Nutella: Contemporary Italian History through Design” would use Material Culture Studies to teach 20th and 21st-century Italian cultural history. To investigate the relationship between artisanal tradition and commercial globalization, students analyze six case studies of iconic Italian brands: Prada, Vespa, San Pellegrino, Barilla, Ferrari, and a fifth brand of their choice. Examining the stories of these brands provides a tangible approach to Italy’s complex economic, legal, and political history. We focus primarily on the products themselves, asking, “Who crafts these objects, and for whom? How are they really used, and why?” Students study design evolution through pictoral, textual, and video representations to determine the socio-economic, gender, and racial categories evoked through advertising campaigns as well as the physical properties of squat jars of Nutella and soft-shouldered San Pellegrino bottles.
Another proposed course, “La Dolce Diva: Theorizing Italian Women in Visual Media,” would use Italian, American, and British Feminist theory and Media Studies to examine representations of women across shifting screens: movie, TV, and computer. Siren, victim, mother, terrorist: the contradictory and illusory female protagonist of Italian cinema, la dolce diva, serves as our enigmatic guide through selected highlights of popular 20th century Italian cinema, propagandistic newsreels, and advertising campaigns. In this course, students learn to apply Italian and American Feminist theory to Italian media, examining how visual representations affect, relate to, and are in turn influenced by film and advertising’s portrayal of gender roles and sexual power dynamics. What visual qualities differentiate the women as subject and the woman as object? How do traditional categories of womanhood, such as seductress and ingénue, fuse or melt on screen? Why might representations of women shift dramatically or hold fast across media aiming to entertain, inform, cajole, or convince? To investigate these questions and develop argumentation skills, students study the structure of theorists’ essays and assess the effectiveness of rhetorical strategies. In-class debates provide a safe space for students to test student theories and critiques prior to writing. Weekly peer-editing clinics hone essay organization skills and contextualize conclusions with reference to visual studies analysis.