Of “Course”

When we take a course, as we do while traveling or for getting an education, we expect to move along a linear path, with milestones along the way, to a certain goal of experience or learning. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a course, as someone pointed out while I was doing a presentation at the Consortium on Graduate Communication summer institute at George Mason University recently. I was presenting on a modularized and student-centered graduate writing course (the subject of this post), and a colleague said: “No, this is not a course! It is essentially an online writing lab!” I think the lack of structure, especially a linear structure and control by the teacher, prompted her to say so.

A course, as a path, or as a curricular/pedagogical framing, occupies space (physical in the case of travel and intellectual and social in the case of education). But, more significantly, the expectation of linearity, of following a certain order of actions or goals, makes temporality override the spatial dimension of a course. It is not going through/over certain points in any order that makes it a course: it is the particular sequence of the points, the linear design, the timed nature, that gives it structure and certainty. There are the scope/coverage and associated goals, but they are bound in time, and the instructor uses deadlines to help/force students to cover that scope, to achieve the goals that he or she has set for them.

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