Revamping survey courses

“An important thread running through those conversations: A good survey course is, most emphatically, not a content-driven information transfer; it’s more like a curated collection. Some of the smartest advice I ever received about this came from a senior professor who told me, when I started teaching a survey: “Dare to omit.””

“If a survey course is meant to inculcate habits of mind, trigger a desire for deeper study, and build an enduring foundation for subsequent academic work, then the course content is not the end in and of itself, but rather the vehicle to produce those outcomes. The key, then, is to see ourselves, not as purveyors of disciplinary content, but as curators.”

Structure the course around questions. Design a survey course in which the purpose is to help students answer some fundamental question — or figure out how they might begin to answer it. A sociology survey could challenge students to answer the question “Why is our society the way it is?” A physics survey could be organized around the question “How does the universe work?””