One of the realities of current education models is that sessional staff and tutors are regularly required to whip together new subject and course material, sadly sometimes within days. As I’m currently enjoying full time employment as a senior lecturer, this situation is one I no longer suffer from, but having operated as a sessional lecturer for several years, its a panicy scramble I’m all too familiar with.

While I’m loath to support this system as it stands, I’m also sympathetic to those who’s income depends upon being able to throw together a course ASAP, and who have the integrity to keep it academically rigorous, student focused and flexibly delivered. I recently game some advice to a friend who now finds herself in this situation. Here’s what I offered:

You have to have a subject template and outline. Whoever is asking you to create the courseware will have this, or the course won’t have been approved. Once you have this document, you will have a helicopter view of what the course is about, how it is being assessed and what the outcomes should be. Its still pretty scary how little you have to work with, but this freak-out moment is a great opportunity to brainstorm and jot down some ideas for the course themes and delivery. Break it down into what you need to teach by working back from the intended outcomes. Also look at what the related opportunities could be: guest speakers, related events, etc.

Now you need to develop some assessable tasks and collate the content.

While I don’t condone and certainly don’t recommend cutting and pasting a course from another uni, seeing what else is around at some of the high rankers and ivy leagues is pretty useful and inspiring.

For the areas I teach, my first port of call is typically the MIT open courseware material.

here you can search the key words to best describe the subject/course you are about to run and you usually get pretty solid syllabus structure and readings. Most of what I teach is practice-focused, so MIT works for me, but more theory related stuff is available at Yale’s open courses. There’s a full list of universities with freely available course content here. You might find some sweet lecture ideas, tute plans, and course trajectories, but it will need to be heavily customised and remixed for your own purposes.

You will need to forge out your own distinctive offering.

To do this, Google Scholar is a great resource for searching recent texts for reading material and it can handle stacks of key words to really specify the content. Depending on your subject, you might also find some interesting and relevant support material a places like the Khan Academy, and by searching though videos, podcasts and even games.

These can really help you flesh out class plans and structure weeks, themes and subjects. This all comes together in a word doc.


Once I have put together a week-to-week breakdown of the lectures and tutorials, I put it into a spreadsheet, and then drop it all in a blog. This not only plans everything out, but also provides access to all of the lectures, tutorials, assessable material, readings, terminology, and supporting content to your students once the course starts. Here are some examples:

Now when a student says, “did I miss anything in this weeks tute”, I can just say: “as I said in week one, check the blog!”

You will probably still be writing the tutorials and lectures the night before, but you at least have a structure that can be followed, a whole bunch of resources that can support your students, and a class based on some of the better international



Too often I see university staff unsupported in their transition into flexible and online delivery. They are shuffled into meetings and events and hear nonsense jargon about how the “future is here”, are bamboozled with terms like “e-delivery” and are admonished that if they are not integrating new technology, they are not engaging.

The leave fearing for their careers, but are offered no tangible way ahead.

Im so relieved to see that COFA has put together a set of train-the-trainer resources to help their own teachers, and anyone else that is interested develop a practical and applicable skill set, right from scratch. Its really good stuff too. Just watching a couple of the video’s, I was so impressed to hear someone actually say “pedagogy before technology” in this one, I almost broke down and wept.