Rationale for Course Materials

Course materials are powerful indicators of an instructor’s approach to teaching and learning. They are important in supporting in-class experiences, as well as experiences outside the classroom. Materials included are those that have been used well in courses and are in line with the philosophy of teaching.


Sample Course Materials

  • course syllabi
  • course handouts
  • course packets
  • course lesson plans
  • class participation guidelines
  • midcourse feedback instruments
  • tests/quizzes
  • assignments
  • grading rubrics/ feedback on student work
  • journal prompts
  • problem sets
  • reading lists/reading prompts
  • tutorials
  • transparencies/slides
  • software

For many, a course syllabus (or syllabi) is the first logical item to include in this section. Depending on the kind of review, several examples might be needed. Unless instructed to do otherwise, it’s best to include a representative set of current course syllabi. A graduate student preparing a portfolio for a search committee, may not have developed their own syllabi but might construct one for this purpose, noting the exercise. Whether including actual or planned syllabi, a rationale might focus on value of this particular course organization or structure.

If the teaching philosophy states that active learning is important in teaching and learning, then course materials that best illustrate active learning should be included. This could be a handout on guidelines for class participation, or ground rules for discussion. A rationale statement that provides the context for their use will assist a reviewer in evaluation of the materials.


Writing the Rationale

A rationale should be written for each item included in your portfolio. Rationales should be short statements (usually one paragraph) that explain why the example of a course handout, test, guide, or other material was used. Each rationale should meet the following criteria:

  • It describes the audience for the material.
  • It explains why the material was used.
  • It relates how the material was used.
  • It discusses the observed effects (e.g., how the material helped students learn).



The following samples, written by winners of the Graduate Associate Teaching Award at Ohio State, present rationales for a variety of course materials.

Course Syllabus: James Collier – Department of Communications

Rationale for Course Materials
James Collier
Graduate Teaching Associate
Department of Communications
Winner of the 2012 Graduate Associate Teaching Award


Explanation of Syllabus

This methodology is drawn from two years of student feedback, my own classes, and a variety of external sources that examine teaching on the university level. I have now used it in seven classes, and continue to fine-tune it.

Lectures: During my initial teaching experience, the most common criticism I received on my student evaluations was an over-reliance on PowerPoint lectures. Students wanted more interaction with me and their classmates – more discussion. I scaled back on lectures before my promotion, but really de-emphasized them when I began these advanced classes. Given two classes each week and a quiz each day: I give a 30 minute lecture the first day, and devote the entire second day to student presentations and discussion.

Reading and quizzes: I assign about 100 pages of reading for each class period, and begin each day with a brief quiz related to that content. This serves three purposes: 1) it allows me to inject much more content; 2) daily quizzes ensure that students read with a sense of purpose, and reflects my conscious decision to forgo daunting mid-term and final papers – both of which encourage procrastination; 3) research indicates that reading improves vocabulary, language use and writing skills – all of which improve public speaking skills. This translates to valuable career skills transportable beyond my class. This methodology compels students to engage the content every day, resulting in greater knowledge gain and retention, as they themselves profess in their evaluations.

Reaction papers and discussion posts: There are three criticisms of college curricula that appear in everything I read externally. Employers bemoan the poor entry-level writing skills of recent graduates, an over-emphasis on memorization, and a lack of critical thinking and complex reasoning skills. I address these concerns to the best of my ability within the parameters of my classes. Rather than lengthy mid-term and final papers, students write 5 reaction papers of about 600-700 words. They also post 10 opinion paragraphs between 200-230 words on our Carmen discussion forum. Properly done, these reflect a 50/50 blend of specific content and opinion. My primary goal in the class is for students to absorb knowledge, and then use it to develop and articulate their own fact-based opinion on these important topics that will dominate political discussion and public policy long after their time here at Ohio State. All told, they are writing frequently, concisely and subjectively, which I feel is more valuable in terms of what they will be expected to do in the business world. Most important, I am compelling them to develop and articulate their own fact-based opinion as opposed to rote memorization.

Discussion leadership: Once during the quarter, each student (in groups of about 5) present media samples related to that day’s content. They have complete freedom to choose anything, and are graded on the quality of a paragraph explaining why they made the choice they did. They present their choice to the class, and pose a series of discussion questions. Content ranges from serious news and documentary through political comedy. Subsequent discussion is lively and students really enjoy the latitude I give them. My priorities here are autonomy and free-form discussion.

Content: All sections of this class are taught differently, and most focus on terrorism as it is portrayed in movies, television drama and political cartoons. Because domestic and foreign policy issues are so omnipresent in our post 9/11 world, I choose to emphasize the political history of the Middle East and Central Asia, how the United States has impacted that history, and how our media system and traditional scholarship treats these critical issues. While there is nothing inherently ‘wrong’ with other foci, I feel my emphasis has more long-term benefit to students as they move beyond graduation.

Course Lesson Plan: Spencer Robinson – Department of Slavic and East European Languages

Rationale for Course Materials
Spencer Robinson
Graduate Teaching Associate
Department of Slavic and East European Languages
Winner of the 2012 Graduate Associate Teaching Award


Lesson Plan

This lesson plan gives a representative view of my teaching because it shows how I design my classes to facilitate student learning and illustrates how it organizes my teaching so I can focus on my students. This lesson plan is from the Russian 405/407 course that I team-taught. Since my co-teacher and I alternated teaching days, it was essential to know exactly what the students would learn each day so we could maximize their learning.

All my lesson plans follow a similar format. I adopted the basic organization from my department. However, I began providing a variety of different activities after teaching Russian 104 for the first time. After making this change, the students were more engaged and they retained the information better since they used varying senses and skills. They began enjoying class more than I had expected. I begin each class with a warm-up activity to help the students get back into speaking Russian. After that, the order of activities varies. The guiding principle in this was to have an activity prepare the students for an assignment later on in the class. This helped reinforce the new vocabulary, grammar, and skills we learned each day.

Goals – At the top of the lesson plan, you will find the student learning objectives I had for this lesson. The wording of the goals focuses on what the students would be able to do by the end of class. I plan my goals in this way because I want my students to hear the content, and then use it.

Warm-up (9:30) – Putting the language exercises into a real context instead of just repeating phrases has helped my students see why such phrases are important and it makes them more meaningful. When the activities are more significant, students learn them faster and retain them. Additionally, they see how they can use their new abilities outside of the classroom.

New vocabulary (10:00) – I group new vocabulary into related themes to make it easier for students to remember and use it. Memorizing new words can be hard, but it is an essential skill in acquiring a language. Thus I try to support the students as they learn these new words.

Listening Activity (10:35) – I help students succeed in listening exercises by having them listen to the exercise several times. I give them specific things to listen for each time I play the recording. This focuses their attention on the meaning and provides a low-stakes environment where they can progress from low levels of comprehension to higher levels fluidly. When students are successful in recognizing the answer the first time, it bolsters their confidence and gives them motivation to keep trying as the questions grow progressively harder.

Application (10:50) – After having a listening activity, I ask my students to do something with what they have just heard, so they will remember the topic the listening task involved.

In addition to demonstrating how I teach, this document also helps organize me. As I leave for class, I can easily remember my Necessary Materials, my Announcements, and what I need to do Before Class. The bolded times also help keep me on track so I can seamlessly move from activity to activity instead of trying to figure out what I had planned to do next. This organization helps keep me focused on getting my students to use Russian in a meaningful way.

Test: Bora Bosna – Department of Mathematics

Rationale for Course Materials
Bora Bosna
Graduate Teaching Associate
Department of Mathematics
Winner of the 2012 Graduate Associate Teaching Award


Practice Midterm

I’ve had students over the years who would ace quizzes and homeworks, going strong into the exam, but get a really bad grade, and not understand why. There is a discrepancy between homework/quiz problems and exam problems: the context in which they are presented and the phrasing/wording are different. Very often students on the exam try to recreate what they do on a textbook exercise although that is not what the exam problem is asking them to do at all (as if they never read the problem). This is because of years of learning procedures and an automated lifestyle that depends on technology. I can undo this only by having students get out of the procedure mentality, understand concepts without depending on a drill hence have flexibility applying them in diverse situations. This practice midterm puts problems in a mathematically more relevant context. You will note the amount of detail I put in what textbooks would consider “trivial steps” (to save space and millions of dollars, I get their point of view), in the calculations, and in the whys to humanize them, which really undoes the students’ confusions and makes things click for them. This helps my goal of getting them out of procedures and reinstating their confidence in their own powers. A practice midterm is not one of my responsibilities and I would have to cut into my own time to write it, but this became a regular thing I do now.

You will see on page 1, pr 1(b) “without reduction of order”(WRO). This is an alternative to Reduction of Order and is not in the textbook and the lecturer did not know about it. I taught it to the lecturer and the students. WRO sets two quantities equal to each other, the Wronskian, after Polish mathematician Wronski (1776-1853) and a quantity from Abel’s Theorem, after Norwegian mathematician Niels Abel (1802-29). These two mathematicians, across seas from each other, each with their own successes and failures were without knowing working on the same thing and WRO links their lives. This story helped students learn Abel’s Theorem since they don’t care much for theorems in general and would rather want the solution. Abel died of tuberculosis at 26. I told my story of learning arithmetic and the alphabet by myself from Sesame Street and having TB at the age of 6. This helped me put a human face on the math we were doing and relate it to my own life.

I prepared this “Practice Midterm” for the students of Math 415 (Partial Differential Equations) for a midterm they were going to have on a Monday morning, coupled with office hours on Sunday. I also made it the “major theme” of the recitation that Thursday. I posted two versions on Carmen a week earlier: without solutions (like an actual exam) and with solutions (to check against). In actual exams many students have trouble solving the problems within 48 minutes and lose points from misunderstanding the question or being unable to do what they know perfectly well. I told them to time themselves with this mock midterm and that I would “grade” it if they brought it to me on Sunday. Some did. I graded and they got instant feedback which they reported helped them great the next day on the exam.

I assessed the success of the practice midterm by asking students directly if they found it helpful, by grading (the average was higher on this midterm than before) and by asking them specifically for feedback on the practice midterms in my “please do the online SEIs!” email at the end of the quarter. Some of the responses in the SEIs were: “The practice exams that Bora compiled were very helpful not only when studying for exams but also when learning the material. The practice questions with solutions provided were infinitely invaluable.” “Bora, the practice material you compiled for the homeworks and midterms was very relevant and helped me adequately prepare for the exams (because it touched base on all important concepts).” “The practice midterms were amazing. You’re the first instructor that I’ve had do that and it was very helpful.” In the future I would try to make the practice midterm even more relevant and human.

Assignment: Kristin Edwards Supe – Department of Psychology

Rationale for Course Materials
Kristin Edwards Supe
Graduate Teaching Associate
Department of Psychology
Winner of the 2010 Graduate Associate Teaching Award


“Psychology in the News”

Application of course materials to daily life and being responsible consumers of information are two of the main themes that I highlight in my Psychology 100 classes. I think that whenever students can see examples of course materials in other sources, they are more likely to internalize that information and utilize it effectively later in life. I wanted to create additional opportunities outside the classroom for students to seek out examples of information, apply it to psychology, and share their findings with classmates. After discussing these goals with other instructors, I implemented a new feature called “Psychology in the News” into my teaching plan.

“Psychology in the News” is a voluntary opportunity for students to earn extra credit on quizzes by seeking out any news article published online, writing a short summary of that article, and discussing how it is relevant to psychology. Students could submit up to two news articles for each of the three quizzes. I announced this opportunity to all 113 students and posted instructions on the front page of our course’s Carmen online course management tool. When students found a suitable link, they could email me directly with a working link and a short (three-five sentences) summary of the news article and a line about how it applies to specific topics covered in Psychology 100. Upon receipt of each submission, I would verify the link, read the article, and respond via email to the student’s summary and application statements. I created a specialized widget on the front page of Carmen and posted all “psychology in the news” submissions so they were accessible for all students.

I was pleasantly surprised with how many students participated in “Psychology in the News” and how well they were able to find and connect a variety of topics to course materials. For example, in Autumn 2009, I received 51 different submissions for just one of the three quizzes. This high rate of participation is especially interesting because it was voluntary work outside of class, and the maximum possible compensation was 1 point out of a final course total of 210 possible points. In other words, students took the time to find news articles, write a summary & application statement, and email it to me—all for only 0.4% credit towards their final grade.

As my instructional artifact, I have included a screen capture of the Carmen widget and an abridged transcript (edited only for spelling) of representative student submissions as they appeared on the “Psychology in the News” Carmen widget. I have selected “Psychology in the News” because it is representative of my core educational values of seeking, sharing, and applying knowledge. Overall, I think “Psychology in the News” was a successful attempt to encourage students to work outside the classroom to seek out information on current events and apply findings to Psychology 100. Students found and applied a variety of news articles ranging from the history of Black Friday, to the contagiousness of loneliness, to the sudden death of Michael Jackson. In future iterations of “Psychology in the News” I would like to add another level of thought by asking students to summarize, apply, and then evaluate strengths and weaknesses of the articles they find.