Designing an (Interdisciplinary) Graduate Seminar: The Crowd-Sourced Syllabus

Designing syllabi for graduate courses is a lot of work, particularly when they are seminars, and particularly when you are in an interdisciplinary program.  In an interdisciplinary program, you might want to teach a seminar on a topic, say intimate relationships, but may only know the research in the discipline (e.g. clinical psychology) you were trained in.  This is one instance where crowd-sourcing can really help.medium_5120100

Here is my story. I teach a graduate course in family theory and research. There are several constellations of family relationships (i.e. couple relationships, sibling relationships, parent-child relationships, in-law, grandparent-grandchild, etc.), as well as several theories related to the study of families. Thus, putting together the syllabus for this course the first time was overwhelming.

I began by looking at a syllabus for a family theory/research course I enjoyed that I took in graduate school in HDFS at Penn State taught by Catherine Cohan, HDFS 525 for you Penn State HDFSers. Next, I googled “sociology of the family”, “economics of the family”, “family communication”, “family psychology”, and “family theory”, and variations on these, with the word syllabus to try to find syllabi that might be relevant. In writing this post, I looked back at my folder of syllabi, and I have several sociology, HDFS, economics, and psychology syllabi related to the family that I used to get ideas of what important readings I might want to include.

Next, I put together an initial draft. I circulated the initial draft among 12 faculty outside of my home institution and my colleagues at Ohio State. I sent the following message:

Dear colleagues,
Feel free to ignore this message if you are really busy.
I am teaching a family course, Theoretical perspectives on the Family, for the first time this fall. I will likely be teaching it each year for the next several years. It is a course primarily aimed at first year graduate students and is supposed to have family theory and research from across the disciplines. I have finally finished a rough draft of the syllabus. It was a rough task. I am writing you to see if you would have any feedback on the syllabus, particularly from your discipline’s perspective.
Here are questions that I would find really helpful if you could answer:
1)      What is missing in terms of family theory or research from your discipline,  if anything?
2)      Would you replace any readings with a more relevant reading?
3)      Would you delete any readings because they are irrelevant, or overlap with other readings, or may be poor quality?
4)      Is there anything really exciting in your discipline related to family research that has recently come out that you think has the potential to move the family studies field?
I also welcome any other comments you might have.
If you are interested, I can email you about the feedback I receive from the email, and let you know what others think is cutting edge in the family field of their discipline.
Thanks in advance!

I heard back from several faculty, and made changes based on their suggestions. You can see the final product here.  As with most things that you solicit feedback on (i.e. manuscripts) the final product was much better after I made revisions based on the feedback. I love teaching this class, and the articles are really fun. Now that I am on Twitter, I would probably use that as a platform for suggestions as well. So, that is the crowd-sourced syllabus. I also want to mention that Eva Lefkowitz recently posted about how the students in her graduate seminar on Adolescent Development find articles for each week’s topic and share the articles with the class. I think this is another great crowd-sourced idea, but in this case, the crowd-sourcing comes from the students themselves.  Check out the awesome post about how this works for her class here.

So, would you ever crowd-source a syllabus? Have you tried this?

Published by clairekampdush

I am a family scholar, relationship scientist, and demographer. I do not identify with a single social science discipline. Rather, I use multiple disciplinary approaches in my research, from social psychology to family sociology, from economics to lifespan human development. I am passionate about interdisciplinary family research and my own family. I blog at Adventures in HDFS and am available for academic writing coaching and retreats through Cultivating Writing.

One thought on “Designing an (Interdisciplinary) Graduate Seminar: The Crowd-Sourced Syllabus

  1. Thanks Claire. It’s the second time I’ve done it and I generally like it. Some weeks the engagement around others’ papers works better than other weeks, but I like that the students get to bring in papers relevant to their own interests, and we all get exposed to more papers than we would if it was just the standard 4 articles per week.


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