When I sat down to design the current version of this course, I took what was, for me anyway, a liberating step. I had been teaching (or teaching in as a graduate teaching assistant) Western Civilization courses since 1992. During my stint as a TA, the course was a fairly conventional one, taught as a series of lectures to classes ranging in size from 150-225 students. Depending upon the professor, we began somewhere around the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 and concluded somewhere between the end of the Second World War and the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe in 1989. Because the professors for whom I worked were very thoughtful and polished lecturers, these courses were popular with the students (and with the department, which reaped the benefit of such a high student/faculty ratio).
Since then I have taught Western Civilization at four different institutions and my classes have never had more than 50 students and have had as few as fifteen. From the start, these smaller classes and my desire to engage my students in more active learning made me increasingly uncomfortable with the straight lecture style. Of course, the more discussion there is, the less content one can cover in 14 weeks, and a course that covers more than 350 years of history has a lot of potential content. Each successive iteration of the course has relied less and less on lecture and more and more on engaging students in discussion of primary sources, readings beyond the textbook, and so on. As a result, each semester my students get less and less "coverage" and more and more time devoted to specific pieces of the larger narrative of European history.
As much as I would like to, I cannot claim that my growing emphasis on discussion has been an unqualified success. Sometimes my efforts to sustain active discussions which included more than the four or five regular participators worked very well and the students really began to argue with one another rather than with me. Too often, however, our "discussions" were more Socratic monologues than they were the Socratic dialogues I had so carefully planned out the night before.
Hypermedia has also become more and more evident in the course. At the University of New Hampshire in 1996 I began that process by putting my syllabus on the web and required my students to go to the web to find a primary source they could use in a paper or to help them understand a problem posed in class. At Grinnell College the students got a more evolved version of the hypermedia syllabus and used a number of documents I posted on-line (and in another course I had my students create their own website). This past year at Texas Tech University I went one step further and created all of my writing assignments as hypermedia experiences. Almost all, but by no means all, the feedback I have received from students about the incorporation of hypermedia into my courses has been positive. And, I must admit, I enjoy the hypermedia aspects of my teaching and so I tend to view the increasingly webbed nature of my courses as being innovative and exciting. Nevertheless, the results I see from student use of the web raise just enough warning flags that I have decided to take a more critical view of just what the impact of hypermedia on their learning has been.
With these worries in mind I have redesigned my course yet again, this time after thinking longer and harder than ever before about how I might improve student learning. The individuals whose work most influenced my thinking about student learning are Jay McTighe, Grant Wiggins and Howard Gardner. Their work empowered me to take the step I had been mulling over since the middle of the spring (1999) semester, which was a radical redesign of the course. My attempts to engage students more by replacing lecture with discussion, and my inclusion of hypermedia in the existing structure of the course, seemed to have taken me as far as I could reasonably go in the format I was using, and so I decided it was time for something completely different.
Following McTighe and Wiggins model, I asked myself a number of questions about the course:
1. By the end of the semester, what should my students know, understand, and be able to do? Of all the possible content available to me, what did I feel was most important for my students to understand (as opposed to just being familiar with)? What skills should they develop during their 14 weeks with me?
2. Once I determined what these learning objectives were, I had to decide how I was going to assess whether or not my students had achieved the desired results. Given the average college students facility with what Gardner calls the correct answer compromise--the ability to provide the expected answer on a test or to a spoken question--I needed to design assessment methods that would give me a better indication of my students understanding of the material.
3. Finally, I had to determine what types of learning experiences would most effectively lead my students to a deeper understanding of the subject matter. Answering this question forced me to consider not only how I would structure my classroom time and student assignments, but also whether the overall design of the course took into account various student learning styles, and whether or not the course formed a coherent whole.
Such a redesign could only work by starting at the end of the semester and working back to the beginning, and I the one question I did not ask was how I could possibly fit in everything they needed to know about modern European history in just 14 weeks.
Gardner offers similar advice, arguing that students have the possibility of attaining deep understanding of a subject if a course is designed with three concrete objectives in mind:
1. The students in the course have to engage the central problems in the discipline if they are ever going to make sense of the material they are confronting. In the case of an introductory history course, this means they must come to understand how historians think and must be able to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of different methodological approaches employed by historians.
2. The students must also realize that the source materials and subject matter they encounter do not exist in some sort of pristine vacuum, much like the displays under glass in a museum, but rather that they represent the work of individual humans, with their own strengths, weaknesses, motivations, and constraints, and that all of these characteristics of the individual actors are imbedded in a particular historical context. The danger here, of course, is that students will impose their own (or some modern) set of these characteristics on individuals who lived in entirely different cultural milieus. Thus, helping them to recognize the actors in the past as real people, but real people who are quite foreign to those living in the present, is an important challenge.
3. Finally, because their prior experiences generally teach students to examine a document, data set, developmental trend, or other piece of historical evidence just once before moving on to the next piece of evidence, they must have many opportunities to come at the same questions or evidence from different perspectives. Otherwise they are often too ready to choose one interpretation of the evidence and stick to it doggedly, without regard for other compelling alternate interpretations. Being able to look at one piece of evidence in several different ways is a skill that all historians (should) develop and it is through this constant testing and retesting of the evidence that we arrive at more mature interpretations of the past. Only when they too can master this skill can our students develop a deeper understanding of the subject matter in their course. 
I used to tell friends of mine that one of the things I liked about teaching Western Civilization was the challenge of having only 50 minutes to teach students the most essential aspects of something as complex as the French Revolution. Given what I have just written, it should be no surprise that I have come to view this way of looking at a survey course as counter-productive. Instead of wondering how to deal with the French Revolution in 50 minutes, I have given up the entire proposition as hopelessly impossible . During my redesign of History 1301 I was willing to ask whether I should deal with the French Revolution at all (something I would have thought heretical just a few years ago). After all, if understanding the Revolution did not contribute to their understanding of the larger points I was making about Western Civilization, why did the Revolution need to appear in the course at all? As it turns out, the Revolution did survive the final cut, but many other seemingly vital topics have fallen by the wayside. Whether my decisions about what to retain and what to jettison were correct is a matter for later assessment and I hope you will feel free to tell me exactly what you think about those decisions.
Now that you know something about how I designed the course, you may wish to proceed to my week by week descriptions of what actually happened.