The question regarding teaching content is a key issue when designing degree programmes and teaching activities. In almost all degree programmes there is content in the shape of topics, positions or problems which any student should know and which it is therefore imperative to introduce in the courses. It is also a common issue in all degree programmes that there is too much content; i.e. there is much more valuable and fundamental content than can in any way be taught. Teachers must therefore have the courage to select and deselect academic content rather than attempting to cover as much as possible.
Too much material may lead to study strategies characterised as what we know as “superficial learning”, which describes the phenomenon that students try to remember as much as possible (matter), but do not succeed in relating the content to the purpose of acquiring this knowledge (meaning). For the students, this results in what we might call encyclopaedic knowledge rather than functional knowledge, i.e. knowledge that may be used in new contexts Therefore, it is important to not only select content carefully, but also to make it clear to the students what the purpose of the selected content is and why they should spend time and energy on relating to and learning this specific content. In other words, communicating the meaning of the content.
In order to accommodate the situation of too much material, you as a teacher may take the exemplary principle as your point of departure. The exemplary principle does not focus, in terms on didactics, on the content itself, but on the shaping of the student’s ways of thinking and acting, which is made possible through their work with the content. Both discipline-specific analytical skills and more general competences, which may be acquired through the processing of academic content, may be aimed for. The key task in the choice of exemplary content is to identify the so-called exemplaries. Exemplaries are themes, positions or issues which contribute to conveying content to the students, and the meaning of which extends beyond the example itself. In other words, they are concrete and may for instance be based on specific issues, but they are also general and relate to general academic themes.
When you, as a teacher, are to select the academic content, you should consider what should be the theme, who the theme should be directed towards, and when the concrete content should be introduced to the students. When selecting the academic content, you may therefore consider: