How To Describe a Course (In an Interview)

Today I am going to devote the post to a brief but vital explanation of how to describe, in an interview, a course you propose to teach. I am doing this as a result of Interview Bootcamps lately, in which one candidate after another falls down while attempting to describe the courses they hope to teach.

It doesn’t matter the course—the Intro course, the graduate methods seminar, or one of the candidate’s own proposed specialty courses—In every case, people just say the wrong thing. Sometimes it’s too much information, sometimes it’s too little. It’s almost always incomplete.

So, here, Dear Readers, is the basic rule of describing a course:

1. title and main takeaway point

2. textbook/s (if low undergrad) or readings (if high undergrad/grad) with brief explanation/justification

3.  Broad organization of the course, with about 3 “landmarks”

4. examples of innovative assignments

5. Conclusion

 

Let me describe each point in more detail.

Title: The title should be engaging, and have appeal to students. The course should be carefully calculated to appeal to the department and the job. Just today I was speaking with a Renaissance specialist applying to a Renaissance job, whose first proposed course,, a fascinating course indeed, included readings by Don Delillo. Now, she may well, after being hired, get to teach such a course. But at the interview stage? No. The course she proposes, in the brief 20 minutes that she has in the conference interview, must relate directly to the Renaissance.

After the title, one to two sentences will describe the topic of the course in the context of the discipline, IF it is a new course, and not one already on the books.  If the course is one on the books, then no explanation of it is necessary.

Example: I would like to teach a course called “Japan Imagined.” It will explore representations of Japan in Western accounts from the 17th century to the present, focusing on shifts that accompany Japan’s changing political and economic status vis-a-vis the West.

Takeaway Point: One sentence will describe the point that you want students to take away from the course.

Example: The point I want students to take away is that “Japan,” and by extension any country, is not a fixed and unchanging entity, but rather a set of representations that are constantly shifting and adapting to reflect economic and political conditions and anxieties.

Textbook/Readings: This is the part that almost everyone forgets. Why, I don’t know. Isn’t it obvious that you need to include the readings as a major element of a course? Anyway, briefly sketch the major readings in one to two sentences.

Example: We’ll read  John Dower’s War Without Mercy, and Anne Allison’s Millenial Monsters, to get a sense of the scholarship on the politics of representation in a context in which Japan actively produces its own global self-representations, and I’ll have students read primary documents such as Portuguese explorer accounts, Commodore Perry’s journal, and WWII propaganda.

Broad Organization of the Course with “Landmarks”:  You will quickly, in one-two sentences, sketch the organization of the course, beginning–>middle–>end.  This is NOT an exhaustive week by week, topic by topic description of the entire course, which will bore your listeners to tears.

Example:  We will start with Portuguese explorers and move through Commodore Perry and the American “opening” of Japan, WWII and the Occupation, and Japan’s rise in the 1980s, ending with the current global dominance of Japanese anime, manga, and video gaming systems.

Assignment: One sentence on a memorable assignment—NOT small groups, or research papers, or class discussion, but something really MEMORABLE.

Example: I have the students play video games such as Tekken or Pokemon and do an in-class demonstration of the Japanese cultural and linguistic elements in each game, and report on the ways that these elements are discussed in the internet discussion boards devoted to the games.

Conclusion:  One sentence that links the course to the wider course catalog, curriculum, or departmental agenda. This proves that you think like a colleague who understands that anything you teach must work within a larger curricular logic.

Example:  In this way students gain a foundation in contemporary Japanese history and Japan’s image vis-a-vis the West that they can carry forward with them into subsequent courses in the major.

In sum, in seven brief sentences you will summarize the course in a dynamic, memorable way, anticipating major questions and leaving no gaps:

“I would like to teach a course called “Japan Imagined.” It will explore representations of Japan in Western accounts from the 17th century to the present, focusing on the shifts that accompany Japan’s changing political and economic status vis-a-vis the West. The point I want students to take away is that “Japan,” and by extension any country, is not a fixed and unchanging entity, but rather a set of representations that are constantly shifting and adapting to reflect economic and political conditions and anxieties. We’ll read  John Dower’s War Without Mercy, and Anne Allison’s Millenial Monsters, to get a sense of the scholarship on the politics of representation in a context in which Japan actively produces its own global self-representations, and I’ll have students read primary documents such as Portuguese explorer accounts, Commodore Perry’s journal, and WWII propaganda.  The course will start with Portuguese explorers and move through Commodore Perry and the American “opening” of Japan, WWII and the Occupation, and Japan’s rise in the 1980s, and end with the current global dominance of Japanese anime, manga, and video gaming systems. In the class, I have the students play video games such as Tekken or Pokemon, do an in-class demonstration of the Japanese cultural and linguistic elements in each game, and report on the ways that these elements are discussed in the internet discussion boards devoted to the games.In this way students gain a foundation in contemporary Japanese history and Japan’s image vis-a-vis the West that they can carry forward with them into subsequent courses in the major.”

 

Karen

About Karen

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.

Comments

How To Describe a Course (In an Interview) — 7 Comments

  1. thank you for this! if you have a chance, could you blog some time on how to apply for SLAC and other teaching-intensive jobs if you don’t have that much teaching experience (e.g. only as a TA and in secondary schools)? any other ways to impress? thanks.

  2. Pingback: The “Be Yourself” Myth: Performing the Academic Self on the Job Market | The Professor Is In

  3. Thanks, Karen! Do you have another post that I’m missing about how to write a course proposal for a postdoc application and/or the job market?

  4. I am going in for my first interview and was asked to give a 20 minute teaching sample. Does that mean I should prepare a mini 20 minute lecture with PPT or do what you have described here? If the latter, should I still have a PPT prepared? Thanks in advanced.

  5. I read your story and disappointments and great accomplishments.
    I am having my first interview in 14 and half years as an adjunct lecturer at a private 2 year college. I have 14 years teaching accounting, auditing,economics, and intro to business part time. I have full time job for 34 years in city government auditing. We are asked to give a 15 presentation sample of a lesson in a subject you plan to teach in. I plan on having 3 lesson plans ready because I want to keep my p/t job and take early retirement with my day job. I could teach about 5 courses at this school and remain about 5 couses 2 are on line with my other school.

    What advice can you give me to stand out and win the contest and be selected for the adjsunct postion in accoutnign I principles, Economics-basic, Intor to Business.
    What tips can you give me- Iprpeared 2 and soon 3 lesson plans for this Tusday. I had little notice. I guess one tip is to get a hold of the hand book for the college on line or in person. The interviewer’s email sent us the school’s mission statement so that is probably important. By the way I graduated Brooklyn College in 1976 with aq BA in Economics with a minor in speech and accounting and a MBA in 1980 for LIU Graduate School of Business–the Broklyn Campus.

    Basically could you provide me with a few tips for the interview and the 15 lesson plan on the 3 topics. I am not sure yet what is available possible all immediately or one but the other 2 down the road. Please write first and you may have my cell number which is 646-894-4225.
    Thank you very much!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>