Guidelines for Topics Courses
"Topics" courses provide departments and programs with a powerful and 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.
Overview“Topics” courses are types of courses that have a general title (usually, “topics in…”) and a variable subheading determined by the department. They serve as broad categories within a particular field, under which a range of more narrow subjects may be taught. For example, under the course topic “Women and Society”, the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies has taught such varied topics as “Political Economy and Gender”, “Family and Community Life”, “Gender and Welfare in Global Perspective”, and more.
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
- The University Curriculum Committee advises that topics courses are usually group instruction courses taught by qualified instructors. (for more information on qualified instructor, see: Policy on Minimum Qualifications for Instructional Staff )
- The L&S Curriculum Committee has determined that topics may be repeated, however 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 however, these attributes may be assigned to “topics” courses, if and only if courses taught within the topic will always convey that attribute.
- At least one topics course should be created with no attributes.
- Topics courses can carry variable credit (e.g., 1-4), which will allow 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 conversation with, and planning by, the department faculty members.
- 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. This is particularly important in cases where topics courses are associated with L&S “level” and “breadth” designations, to ensure that 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, it is strongly recommended that a topics course with no breadth or level 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 are taught infrequently should be deleted and converted to topics, and when existing topics should be proposed for inclusion in the regular course array.