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CALS Guidelines for Topics Courses

This document offers instructors and departments with guidelines for the use and monitoring of Topics courses.


Topics courses provide departments and programs with the flexibility to explore new content and emerging areas of study. They allow departments, programs, and instructors to: 

  • Pilot and refine a new course on a trial basis.

  • Deliver course content on current or time-sensitive issues.

  • Provide special-interest content that will be offered only one or two times, such as a course taught by visiting faculty. 

Topics courses have a general catalog-level title, which serves as a broad category under which a range of more narrow subjects may be taught. For example, INTER-AG 375: Special Topics is a general catalog-level title. This “parent course” is listed in the course catalog and may include breadth, level, or other attributes that apply to each section-level offering of the course.  

Each offering of a Topics course also has a variable, section-level title determined by the department. For example, “History of CALS” is a specific, section-level title offered under the umbrella of the “parent course INTER-AG 375: Special Topics. Each section-level offering of a Topics course is intended to be temporary. Section-level titles do not appear in the course catalog for students; they cannot have additional or unique catalog-level information apart from the durable attributes of the “parent course.” Due to these issues, Topics courses do not promote transparency to students. 

Campus Topics Course Policy Summary

  • Topics course sections (e.g. specific topics titles) should be offered no more than three times within a five-year period.   

  • Topics course section-level titles should rarely, if ever, be used to fulfill core requirements in a major or certificate. 

  • See Course Proposal Elements: Topics Courses for more information

CALS Topics Course Guidelines

  • Departments are responsible for approval, scheduling, and appropriate use of Topics courses. The decision to offer topics course sections should be part of the regular department course review process, which should involve department faculty members, or the governance body delegated with this authority (e.g. department curriculum committee).

  • Topics course titles and sections must be reviewed and approved by the departmental governance body responsible for curriculum before they are offered. The department should ensure that the offering:

    • Aligns with the approved characteristics of the “parent” course, as described above. 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 several types of credit required for completion of their degrees, it is the responsibility of all departments and programs carrying courses that convey level and breadth to assign topics appropriately.
    • Has unique content and does not significantly overlap with an existing approved course.
    • Meets credit hour requirements.
    • Meets the general course requirements for syllabus information and institutional quality standards, including appropriate learning outcomes.
    • Has a qualified instructor.
  • A department process for determining when and if section-level offerings that have been taught should be proposed as permanent courses should be established. That process should consider the following guidelines:

    • If a topics course is offered a second time within five years, the department should consider whether this is the final offering of this topic, or if the department should start the process to convert the course into a permanent course offering. Topics courses may be taught a third time if they have an active proposal in Lumen workflow.
    • Due to their temporary nature, specific topics course titles should not be listed as program or certificate requirements.
    • Departments should consider carefully before offering topics courses in a “meets-with” format. There must be a clear reason for doing so and alignment of all governed course characteristics must be thoroughly reviewed. The “parent courses” must align across course title, description, attributes, course designations, and requisites. “Meets-with” courses that include undergraduate and graduate-only course listings must have separate assessments for graduate students and at least one course-level learning objective specific to graduate students. 

Considerations When Developing a Topics Course (General Catalog-Level) 

  • Topics courses are group instruction courses.

  • Departments should consider level (elementary, intermediate, advanced) and breadth (e.g. Social Sciences, Humanities, Physical Science) for undergraduate topics courses. These attributes may only be assigned at the catalog level, if every topic title taught within the course will meets the criteria for these designations. 

  • Topics courses can carry variable credit (e.g., 1-4), which allows flexibility in scheduling and content.

Policy approved by CALS APC:  May 5, 2020
Page created: May 30, 2023 

Keywordscourse, courses, topics,   Doc ID128685
OwnerDiana A.GroupCALS Academic Affairs
Created2023-05-30 14:19:13Updated2023-05-30 15:47:33
SitesCALS Academic Affairs
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