Creative Ways to Produce Fresh Course Content
Sandy Keeter is a Professor in the Information Technology Department at Seminole State College in Florida.
Our recent Faces of Faculty research has shown one of the top challenges faculty are facing now is figuring out how to present material in new ways and produce creative course content. In fact, our report shows 59% of faculty have been impacted by the need to produce creative content, lectures and topics in the past year. And 27% of that segment say it’s a top challenge. Some faculty incorporate online clips, some rely on interactivity, some create media and some borrow materials.
Why Create New Course Content?
I teach Intro Computing courses. For some students, this can be daunting if they are afraid of technology, and for others, this can be boring because they aren’t interested in the topic, or they think they know it all already. My challenge is to reach both types of learners and everyone in between. Creating a course is all about the content and how it’s delivered. I find ways to make it interesting and engaging so students can and want to learn more. The world is always changing so there is no lack of new material to discuss in my classes, especially in the world of technology, and it’s important to keep our classes up to date.
Before developing or looking for new content or new ways to engage your students, you need to consider a few questions. What do you hope to accomplish by adding new course content? Are you trying to simply update old content, connect more with your students or further instruct and assess? Can you use this new content in other classes? Do you want the content to be shared and accessed synchronously or asynchronously?
Whatever new content or activities you create, you must make it relevant and relatable, so students want to come back for more. You should also consider making the new content reusable, accessible and equivalent in all modes of learning, for all students. There is no need to totally revamp the course. Keep it SIMPLE by expanding on existing content and sprinkling new content throughout.
It can be challenging to be creative while trying to juggle academic requirements, but it’s not impossible. You simply start with your current course and make some small changes to create a learning environment that’s more interesting and educational. It may appear overwhelming as you start narrowing down course specifics. But with a few changes, you’ll be able to create content that flows organically and makes a logical path for your students.
Review Course Objectives
First and foremost, you’ll need to review your course objectives and outcomes before developing anything new. Decide what you hope students will accomplish in the course and refer to the course description to help define the objectives. Make sure students know what they’ll take away from the course and how it benefits them. It should be clear why students need to complete readings and activities and how much instructor or peer interaction is necessary to meet objectives.
Some topics may not be as interesting as others or may be more difficult to understand. With a little creativity, you can turn dull or difficult content into an amazing learning experience. Remember, you shouldn’t have to start from scratch or re-invent the wheel. By expanding your current content, you can end up with a refreshed, high-quality course your students will love!
Review Course Content
Do a thorough review of your courses and create a list of topics and subtopics for each. Develop a course map (here’s a template you can use) that shows how the course is aligned by objective, topic, learning and assessments. This will help you see gaps and topic areas that need more coverage. Look closely at what you are assigning before, during and after class to see where you might be able to add, modify or remove content. When you’re evaluating which content to keep in your class, sort it into two categories: need-to-know and nice-to-know. Include only content that’s most relevant and useful.
Consider the amount of time needed each week, depending on the complexity of the material, and narrow it down so your students can successfully get through it. Too much content will deter learners and make it harder to retain what is taught. What topics lend themselves to more in-depth coverage? Gauge student interest and struggles by looking back on course surveys or grades for that material.
Once you have done a thorough review of your course you will need to consider how it is structured. Perhaps re-arranging topics in a different order will make better sense and allow for a clearer learning path. Clustering learning activities followed by reviews, reflections and assessments will allow you to assess what students have learned and how well they understood it before moving on to the next topic.
Add New Content and Enhance Delivery
When adding new content, don’t go overboard! Choose strategies and tools that match your objectives and don’t overwhelm the student. Incorporating every “tool” in the book can have a negative effect on student learning and your course quality. New discussions, peer teaching, group work or critical thinking exercises may add value to your course but be careful not to add too much.
You can create new content and effective learning experiences by presenting or delivering the material in new ways. Good content takes careful thought and planning so give yourself TIME to find, and/or develop new material. Ask business or industry partners for real projects and case studies your students can work on.
Shorten or rewrite course notes or assignment instructions so it is clearer and more concise, make fonts consistent and avoid colors, bolding and italics to make it more accessible. Rephrase the content in a way that’s easier for students to absorb and understand. Use a warm conversational tone to keep it casual and add some personality by telling a story or using humor to drive home key points.
Can you spruce up or repurpose existing content by enhancing the delivery? Can you assess your students in a new way? Images or illustrations help supplement teaching material, magnify the meaning of your words, keep students’ attention and heighten understanding. Videos are great for adding engagement and feedback to your course. They can assist students with anything from clarifying written instructions to illustrating examples, to recording live lectures.
Students overall seem to prefer a learning experience that’s more visual. Providing animations along with written text and video helps the visual learner interact with the information and retain what they are reading. Using a combination of writing, interaction and visuals will ensure your students enjoy the content more and provides multiple delivery options that aid in student success.
New, Simple Course Content ideas
Icebreakers are a great way to start every class or module. Consider adding something new, like an entry ticket or a reflection on the reading.
Articles, podcasts, websites and newsfeeds are great for sharing content or information from a different author or perspective. Appeal to students’ strengths and interests and stimulate their interest with a variety of information and learning sources that can be used for discussion starters.
Introduce pair or group work for students to interact with new partners. Help get them used to working with others and get them ready for the workforce. By working with others, students should stay more focused and active in class.
Storytelling is a perfect way to give your existing content a creative spin. It is one of the easiest, yet most powerful ways you can share information with others. The more familiar a story feels, the more convincing it is, and the more energized and enthusiastic students will become with the subject matter. Role playing is another way to deliver a lesson as you create situations your students can relate to.
I feel fortunate to work at a school that offers tech tools for us to experiment and play with and ultimately use in our classes. These include whiteboards, fancy projectors, smartboards, virtual machines and Hyflex equipment. Interactive tools and activities allow students to make more meaningful connections with the content. By adding prompting questions with interactive exercises, students become more active in their learning, and this can promote their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
It takes more than words to stimulate students’ brains and help them learn. To get them thinking, you need to entice them to participate in the learning experience and connect with the content. You could turn a PowerPoint into an engaging interaction by converting some bullet points into thought-provoking scenarios with real-life characters or add music and video.
There are many active learning tools and strategies available to embed in your classes, but I caution you not to incorporate a new tool without researching and learning it well, so it adds value and does not become a distraction. If you’re not comfortable adding new “tools,” you might consider using some Active Learning Strategies to help set up community discussions, peer reviews, checks for understanding or a quick write. All of this can be done both synchronously and asynchronously.
Instead of summarizing a lesson, consider having students discuss what they’ve learned in a community forum. Be clear with your expectations by creating a rubric and have students respond to each other either through written response or an audio or video recording. A collaborative notetaking document also works well for students to share their thoughts on a lesson and for instructors to follow up with a written or recorded summary of all student responses.
Evolve and Change
Remember that your course will and should evolve each semester or academic year. It may never be a “final” product. You should continue to adapt and iterate lessons as you review and address student feedback and respond to the changing world.
To ensure that your course content is current, fresh and leads to better learning, you should review your courses regularly, question how you are currently presenting the information, create an intuitive learning path and cater to a variety of learning styles. By delivering new content in more creative ways, students benefit from a richer and more accommodating learning experience.
The need to produce creative content is just one of the many pressures higher ed faculty are currently facing. Read about this and other top challenges and trends in our 2022 Faces of Faculty research.