Preparing a course about a new topic: from a personal interest to a professional outcome

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I am teaching a course about makerspaces in September. The maker movement is something I am very curious about. I like the philosophy of it, so I have read a lot about the topic in the last years and am informed about how everything evolves.

I visited some makerspaces (the first one in the Phoenix Public Library, in 2014) and was in the first edition of OuiShare Fest (Paris, 2013), which included a lot of experiences related to the topic. Moreover, I have applied some of the maker principles to my work and at home (I don’t have a makerspace, but often use instructables with my kids and try to convey them that the best way of learning is by doing). I believe in constructivism, so for me, this is the way to go.

Having said all that, I need to know more about the topic to be able to build a good course. The students will want to create a makerspace for their institutions after we work on it. It will certainly help what I already know, which is probably more than what most of them do know, but it won’t be enough. I have to give a more complete and professional perspective.

So, what do I do when I need to take my level of knowledge about something to a new stage? How do I proceed if I want to learn and acquire enough skills about a particular topic so I can teach about it? It doesn’t matter if it’s about makerspaces or any other subject, the approach is always the same: I have to become capable of doing myself more than the students will need to do by themselves at the end of the course (to achieve their goal). I need to know about it broadly and stay ahead of all the possible difficulties that may arise (or at least of most of them).

How do I manage to do all that?

Bibliography

I look for books, papers, presentations, blog posts… about the topic I am working on. Even if I know about it, I want to look at it from different perspectives (as if I didn’t): the fundamentals, people telling how they have done this or that, news, guides, interviews, etc. The goal is to acquire a complete picture of it so I can start planning how the course will be and I am sure I don’t forget anything.

Videos

It’s not very different from the previous item, but videos generally give you a more practical perspective of what you need to learn about. Talking about makerspaces, you can watch real examples told by the people who have created them (or who work there). What was the process to create it? What kind of activities do they offer to their users? What type of materials did they buy? How are they budgeting?

Personal sources

It’s common that the most relevant people on any topic develop an active presence on Twitter, which is also the place where they can be more easy to reach. So that’s where I usually start looking: I verify if the authors of the books, papers and other sources I’ve found previously are on the platform and follow them (or put them into a list). Then I complete the search using some relevant keywords. All those accounts will provide me with a lot of useful information, and I will probably end contacting some of them when I need some accurate facts.

Preparation and real experience

With all that, I can start building my course. From an outline, I prepare all the instructional materials, different kind of examples, etc. In this particular case, I will also have to be capable of creating a makerspace. I mean… I won’t create it for real but will have to do as if I was going to do it: space, materials, activities, budget, etc. Learning by doing, remember? I don’t want students asking me about something I don’t know about, or I haven’t experienced for myself (there are limits to this, of course, but I can minimize them asking people previously about the issues that come along with a makerspace).


So when someone asks me to teach about something I have never taught before, I don’t say yes or no right away. Before that, I ask myself three questions:

  • Do I already know something about the topic?
  • Is this something I would enjoy learning more about?
  • Am I capable of reaching the required level of knowledge and habilities to teach about it? In other words, can I be trusted to do this job?

If all the answers are yes, then I conclude I am in front of an excellent opportunity and accept the assignment.

Picture: Mack Male.

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Also available in | También disponible en: Español