Hesam Panahi

Hesam Panahi

Essays, projects, and other adventures

4 key parts to a playbook for your course

I can still remember walking into the classroom to teach for the first time.

I was lost. I was a graduate student teaching one section of the introductory course for management information systems majors. I was handed a textbook, a syllabus, and slides and told “to teach”.

I knew very little about my students, what other sections of the class were doing, and what the point of all of it was.

There has to be a better way. Over the years, I’ve seen how hard it is to have know-how and process across a teaching team of multiple instructors. To be effective, you need a playbook. Here are 4 key elements:

The course promise and student profile

Why does the course exist?

What’s the student transformation? Where does this course fit in with other course and co-curricular offerings? What are the different personas of learners that might take this course?

Justify that the course is a solution to someone’s problem, helping them get from point A to point B.

Pre-course communications

Arm the teaching team with an opportunity to make a great impression with learners before the first day.

Ask students to complete an onboarding survey so you can know them better. Send an introductory email and video so students can get a sense of voice and style. Share resources and suggested reads with students to help them prepare for the course.

Get learners started on their journey before the course begins.

Run of show for each session

Document what needs to happen, minute by minute, for each course session.

I learned this tactic from the fine folks at Stanford d. school’s Teaching and Learning Studio. It has been indispensable.

At first, I thought this was crazy. But then I started creating a run of show for each session and sharing it with the teaching team and TAs. Doing so makes it clear across the team about what needs to happen, when, and who was responsible.

Assume everything you plan will take longer than you expect.

Student feedback docs

If you’re not capturing data from students and iterating, you’ll never improve the course.

This becomes an even bigger issue as more instructors join the course. You’ll get feedback about specific instructors and feedback about the course more generally. Capturing feedback often (at least 2x a semester) and sharing it with the rest of the team is a must.

Address recurring themes so you can deliver an even better experience next time.