Guidelines for Writing a Course Analysis Article for Principedia
The aim of Principedia course articles is to provide a useful description of a course in terms of its design, instructor expectations, and especially, the learning challenges it poses to students. Articles offer suggestions for learning approaches, methods and strategies to meet those challenges. Our goal is to provide students with information about HOW to learn in a course that is not typically exchanged. Think of your article as a “user’s manual” for the course—an experienced student’s insights about how to effectively engage instruction, learn efficiently, and achieve success in the course. Other students should be able use it (1) to accurately anticipate instructor expectations and course demands in order to make informed choices, and (2) adjust their study methods to be in sync with professor’s expectations to effectively learn from instruction and make the most of the course. The prompts below guide you to articulate a course-specific approach to learning grounded in an analysis of the curriculum, instruction and assessment. When writing your article, use the course syllabus and other materials from the class.
Thinking about Audience
The primary audience of these articles is students who have not themselves taken the course, but are considering it, so explicitness is paramount. Therefore, an excellent description should at least: (1) describe the course’s features, (2) analyze it in terms of the challenges it poses to learners, (3) suggest an effective strategic approach to learning in the course, and (4) provide your peers with a sense of what they can expect to take away from the course as well as other considerations when deciding to enroll or not in the course. Further, though the primary audience is likely undergraduate students, all these articles will be accessible to University faculty and staff and hence the tone of the article should be professional and as objective as possible. Though your experience in the course has some subjective components, try to make the most objective observations and analysis so the article is as widely applicable and helpful to other students as possible.
Organize your post using our five-part structure in which you:
(1) describe the course goals, curriculum and themes
(2) describe and analyze the course’s features, how it is taught, and ways to effectively learn from instruction
(3) describe the course assignments and assessments, explain how to approach them, as well as how to effectively learn from them.
(4) identify useful learning resources in and outside the course and explain how to use them effectively
(5) give your peers advice about the hidden demands of the course, what was valuable that you took away from it, and other information pertinent to deciding whether or not to take the course.
- Adopt a professional, analytical tone appropriate to your peers and also to Princeton faculty and staff who will have access to the site.
- When describing a course emphasize its objective, observable features.
- Link your specific suggestions about learning strategies to concrete descriptions of features of the course and provide a rationale for your advice in the general form, “Because the course has x feature, I suggest you adopt y approach, and here’s how to do it.”
- Your primary audience is students who have not themselves completed the course, so be as explicit and specific as possible.
Inevitably, there are also some “Don’ts” for contributing to a site like this.
- Don’t provide a list of “tips” or obvious generalities (e.g. “pay attention”). Rather, describe and give reasons for adopting an effective strategic approach (a set of interconnected strategies) to each component and the course as a whole.
- Remember these articles are descriptions of the design and features of courses and instruction, not critiques of individual professors.
- Minimize use of evaluative language: “boring,” “interesting,” “easy,” “hard,” even positive judgments are subjective descriptions of courses that are not that helpful for others learning and success in the course.
- Don’t break fair use, Princeton academic integrity/Honor Code, or the site’s editing policies.
Article Organizational Structure
Based upon your experience of course features as well as your analysis of them, propose and give a rationale for an effective set of strategies for meeting the learning expectations/demands in this particular course and making the most of its intellectual opportunities. Your advice should be in the logical form, “Because the course has demand X, I suggest doing Y, for reason(s) Z.” Describe the strategies and techniques you suggest in sufficient specificity and detail that a fellow student could actually implement them.
Course Goals & Curriculum
It’s useful as a learner to have a sense of the course curriculum as a whole from the outset in order to prioritize information, make connections, etc. Briefly describe the course: its goals and objectives (stated and tacit), the main topics and themes and their inter-relationships (how organized), and any other important aspects of the curriculum of the course.
- In terms of content, what did your professor and preceptor want you to learn from the course as a whole and what did they emphasize most?
- How would you describe the organization of the course content and “flow” from beginning to middle to end? If it is divided into sections or units what are they and how are they related? Is the course fundamentally comparative, is content organized chronologically or sequentially, hierarchically or by some other principle?
- What’s particularly unusual, hard, etc. about the course?
- What was challenging about acquiring this knowledge and what skills and strategies did you use to grasp, organize and learn course content?
Learning from Classroom Instruction
Describe how the course was taught, including each course component (see list below) and how they are designed to fit together. What does the professor/instructor do in seminar, lecture, lab, precepts, etc., and what are expectations of students for each? Describe the methods you utilized to make the most of each component.
- Lecture or seminar
- Assigned readings/texts
Use the following questions to guide your analysis of each relevant component of the course.
- What is its purpose in the course? What types of skills and knowledge are students expected to take away from it? How does it function or fit in relation to the other components of the course?
- What’s difficult or challenging about this component?
- What strategies, methods and processes aid students’ learning before, during and after the component? (e.g. What can students do to efficiently prepare for lecture, take effective lectures notes, and use their notes for psets, papers, or study for exams?)
Learning For and From Assignments & Assessments
Understanding the function of course tasks and what learning methods and processes they require help students align their learning with instructional purposes. Additionally, assignments and tests are not only parts of the course where knowledge and skills are learned and practiced also reveal the skills and knowledge most valued in the course. Reflect on the prompts, questions or problems on exams and other assignments as well as what counted as a good answer to clarify the kinds of knowledge and thinking skills students will need to master in this course. In short, what types of knowledge, skills and ways of thinking are most important in this course?
- What is the main function of p-sets in the course? What kind of knowledge and skills are students supposed to take away from them? How do they function or fit in relation to lectures, precepts, readings, and, especially, exams?
- What are effective ways of preparing for, tackling, and learning FROM these p-sets?
- What reading, annotation and other strategies were helpful in preparing to write your paper(s)? How did you identify and choose paper topics? How did you gather and organize material for your papers?
Tests, including exams and quizzes
- Describe the kind of problems/questions (not merely format, i.e. multiple choice) asked on the exam and what kind of thinking (e.g., straightforward recall, application to familiar problems/questions, application to more complex/unfamiliar problems/questions, synthesis, etc.) they required.
- What are effective ways to study for exams in this course? How did you organize, synthesize or otherwise study course materials (including past exams) to prepare for exams? What kinds of study/exam prep tools did you create and how did you use them?
- Describe how the course assignments (p-sets, readings, reflections, lab reports etc.) can be used to help prepare for the exams.
- How should students approach readings for this course? How can they utilize class (lecture, precept, seminar, office hours, etc.) to enhance what they learn from readings?
- Describe other assignments. What were their purposes; what was challenging about them; what strategic approach did you use to tackle them and learn from them?
- Did you read with specific course purposes, themes or questions in mind?
- How did you remember what you read so that you could use it? Did you take notes or create study tools in a specific way for this course?
What resources not assigned and external to the course did you find useful and what advice do you have for making the most of them? Consider on-line, print or other resources addressing conceptual content, skills such as problem-solving or writing, and methods and strategies for learning. Why did you use them—at what point in the course, and how?
What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course Selection
- Describe what students can expect to learn and learn how to do, and how such skills and knowledge could be applied in the future. What avenues of future study may be opened up; how could what one learned be applicable to independent work, etc. ?
- What specific background knowledge and skills were assumed and/or helpful for learning in this course? Were their any “hidden” expectations or demands?
- What time and other demands should students know about this course?
- What are the most valuable benefits you took away from this course, including appreciation of the discipline, new interests, self-knowledge, etc.?
- What else should students know about this course before taking it that they could not get from other sources (e.g. advisors, course description)?