Assignment Landscape

Typical Course

Typical course looks like above.  It has so many concepts taught and the course is so comprehensive!!!  Comprehensive course isn't a complement.  It means an ineffective course.  The course author usually focused too much on teaching everything that they forgot to see which of these concepts are must to knows, nice to knows, and no need to knows.

Notice how the assignment doesn't even cover all concepts taught in the course.  Mots of the time, instructor created courses, spend 90%+ of the time on laying out as many concepts as possible and then spent less than 10% of the time on coming up with assignments.  Assignments in a lot of these cases are ineffective and boring.  Students feel overwhelmed, lost, and feel stupid.  Instructor receive the perception that they are super smart and this course feeds on the ego of the instructor.

Mediocre course

This is a bit better course.  It's organized better and students are being asked to work on assignments where they have to apply what they have learned.  These courses, although better than the first example, is still very ineffective.  Students learn by repetitions yet this course doesn't have enough repetitions for students to really understand the concepts and build confidence.  Confidence is built as students learn how to build more complex projects gradually on their own yet this course is like teaching kids how to play piano and after giving them a 2 hour lesson, expecting them to perform a master piece after that short lesson.  It just doesn't work.  Note how the second assignment does not revisit any of the topics introduced earlier.  Students feel like they are learning a little but they are lost as there is not enough overlap of concepts in between assignments.

In addition, the concepts taught and needed for assignment 1, if that is too long and comprehensive, students are going to get very lost.  For example, if you had to watch 5-10 hours of videos to be taught the concepts, and then have to do a huge assignment that would take you 40 hours, how would you feel?  I guarantee, students are going to complain and hate their learning experience in majority of that 40 hours.  90% of them would also be half asleep when they are watching your 5-10 hours of video.  This course is plain ineffective, although a bit better than the first case.

A good course

A good course looks like above.  Note how the assignments were laid out where students level up gradually and where they learn how to connect increasing number of dots themselves gradually.  Assignments are well designed where enough repetitions are built as new concepts are introduced and as students level up.  These courses often focus heavily on the must to knows.

The best course

The best course looks like this where after the students have leveled up, through mastering the must to knows, then the instructor introduces nice to know concepts.  These are important as nice to know concepts build confidence in students especially when our students talk to other folks who have spent years in that technology.  Note that the nice to knows are often used as a gauge to see if people really know what they are doing.  By teaching some of these nice to knows, students can have intelligent conversation with people who have normally spent years learning that technology and if their goal is to find a career that uses that technology, it gives them a significant boost to their hiring chance.  Note that some of the nice to knows, assignments are not needed as just knowing the terms are often enough.

Note how the no need to knows are never introduced or taught.  No need to knows feed on the instructor's ego but adds no value to the students.  A good curriculum designer intentionally eliminates all of the no need to knows.