Each year's project is different, so each class's instructor pretty much has to start from scratch. There's an enormous amount of preparation involved. In designing the problem, I gave the students just enough constraints that they wouldn't be standing in a wide open field asking, "Where do I go now?" With such an open-ended problem came open-ended questions and open-ended solutions.
I learned very quickly that I couldn't even prepare a week ahead of time for this course. I started by spending 20 hours preparing 2 hours of lectures ahead of time, for the first few weeks. By the time class came around, the students would have gone down a different path and had questions on something else. Sometimes students would ask things that I would not expect at all. I learned to prepare two days ahead of time and respond to the students' requirements. I had to constantly figure out what they'd done, where they were going, how to best guide them, which questions to actually answer, and which questions would simply push them in the right direction. I pretty much prepared myself to meet the needs of the students as they evolved.
Throughout the semester, I used several strategies to learn about each of my 17 students' individual backgrounds, goals, and needs. This understanding enabled me to tailor the course to meet students' evolving needs.
Some strategies I used include
Dr. Short working on his couch, where he spent dozens of hours preparing for the course. (Image courtesy of Dr. Short.)
A lot of my lecture preparation time was spent sitting upside down on the couch at home, thinking, “What am I going to tell these kids in a couple of days?” or, sometimes, in 12 hours. A lot of times, it just takes a lot of thinking. You’ve got to think through, okay, where are they now? Where were they a week ago? A month ago? Where do I want them to be in 24 hours? In a week? In a month? So I’d say half my time was spent sitting and thinking, jotting down notes on paper, crumpling them up, and throwing them over my shoulder.
Most of the rest of my time was spent on preparing lecture notes or class examples to work through. So that would be actually creating a problem, solving it in an instructive manner, and thinking about how I could explain every little piece in every step. And a lot of time actually goes into preparing the slides. I've had a number of courses as a student where I couldn't focus on the material because it felt like the instructor didn't think twice about his slides. I spent a lot of time crafting the slides to make sure the students could focus on the material and not on the way they were presented. My wife helped me a ton with visual impact and organization, too.
I've experienced this same sort of dynamic nature in the start-up companies that I've been involved in, where everything changes day by day, and you can make a 180 degree turn at the end. If you find a mistake in your design, you have to propagate it through. While teaching this course was undoubtedly demanding, it was also exhilarating. I love doing design, and I love teaching design. The dynamic nature of the course really added to the excitement of teaching it. I loved helping students understand topics and figuring out new ways to teach things on the fly.