L&S Guidelines for Topics Courses

"Topics" courses provide departments and programs with flexible tool for exploring new topics and emerging areas of study. They may also provide a mechanism for offering courses that are taught infrequently. This document discusses these considerations, and offers advice from the L&S Curriculum Committee concerning how best to use topics courses as part of a holistic curricular planning approach.


“Topics” courses are types of courses that have a general catalog-level title and a variable section-level title determined by the department. They serve as broad categories within a particular field, under which a range of more narrow subjects may be taught.

Topics courses allow flexibility in the curriculum, so the faculty can experiment with new courses, offer instruction in areas that are not part of the regular course array, take advantage of the expertise offered by visiting professors, or to provide a “holding” place while a course is awaiting approval. These are tools to use when departments want to offer courses that don’t appear often enough, or that aren’t broad enough, to justify creating a regular course.

Considerations When Developing Topics Courses

  • They are typically group instruction courses
  • If a particular topic is repeated more than three times in a five-year period, the department should create a permanent course.
  • For the greatest amount of flexibility, departments creating topics courses should consider level (elementary, intermediate, advanced) and breadth (e.g. Social Sciences, Humanities, Physical Science) for undergraduate topics courses. Note: These attributes may only be assigned at the catalog level, if every topic title taught within the course will be meet the criteria for these designations.
  • Topics courses can carry variable credit (e.g., 1-4), which allows flexibility in scheduling.

Department-Level criteria to ensure topics courses are used appropriately should include:

  • A process for approval and scheduling of topics courses. The decision to offer particular topics should be part of the regular process for establishing the department/program schedule of courses and should involve include appropriate faculty department govenrance.
  • Establish eligibility to teach topics courses. Since topics courses are usually restricted to faculty and visiting professors, departments may wish to note other instructors deemed acceptable to the faculty (e.g., permanent instructional staff) or define procedures to review instructor qualifications to determine qualification to teach topics.
  • Appropriate assignment of topics course numbers. The subjects taught are appropriate to the level of difficulty and type of breadth assigned to the course. In cases where the determination of level or breadth is difficult to ascertain, a topics course with no breadth or level should be used. Since these designations are used by undergraduate students to earn various types of credit required for completion of their L&S degrees, it is the responsibility of all departments and programs carrying courses that convey level and breadth to assign topics appropriately.
  • Protocols for determining when courses that have been taught should be proposed for inclusion in the regular course array.

Please contact Kimbrin Cornelius at kimbrin.cornelius@wisc.edu if you have more questions about topics courses.

KeywordsCurriculum, Proposal, infrequent, occasional, visiting   Doc ID20119
OwnerSara S.GroupL&S KB
Created2011-09-02 10:32:20Updated2023-07-05 12:57:52
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