In our role as instructors, most of us deal with the problem of too much content. We often embrace a “content coverage” model in designing our courses, in which we attempt to cover all of the material that we deem important or interesting in the area of our course. The result is a course that increasingly balloons out of control each year as more and more content is added, resulting in a harried instructor and frustrated students.
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
With access to a world of information as close as our phones, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all there is to teach. New material continues to emerge in every academic discipline, and teachers feel a tremendous responsibility not only to stay current themselves, but to ensure that their learners are up to date on the most recent findings. Add to this information explosion the passionate desire by faculty members to share their particular areas of expertise and it’s easy to see why content continues to grow like the mythical Hydra of Greek legend. And like Hercules, who with each effort to cut off one of Hydra’s nine heads only to have two more grow in its place, faculty struggle to tame their content monsters.
I don’t get it! Every fall the new telephone book arrives, filled with lots of information and with loads of new numbers, so why don’t we design a class that covers this material? Nowhere do we teach this information. Why don’t we expect folks to study the telephone book and memorize the numbers? Grudgingly, I am forced to admit that no real justification for memorizing telephone numbers exists, as tempting as it might be for me to teach this course.
For one thing, there are just too many numbers. Back when there were only a dozen or so, it might have been possible to memorize them all—not that it would have served any existential purpose, but just as an exercise. Now there are way too many. My critics tell me the real problem is that the telephone book is pretty useful as a reference. It is well organized and easy to find a number when you need it. In fact, it turns out that most people have no interest in memorizing telephone numbers and only learn those they use regularly, although speed dial can remove even that reason. Basically, all that folks need to know is how to use a phone book.
In more than 20 years of teaching, I have learned that too much information frustrates rather than inspires students. Today, however, with a few clicks of the computer mouse, any teacher can retrieve an overabundance of information. What is more, courseware makes distributing this information to students amazingly easy. As a result, teachers risk (unintentionally) giving students much more information than they can reasonably digest, including electronic texts, supplementary texts, and background information. The key to avoiding information overload is remembering course goals.