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Course Offerings: Titles, Topics, and Transcripts
As we approach another catalog year, it is worth reviewing an area that departments should keep in mind when submitting curricular requests and when offering classes each term.
For students, the end result of a course title is its listing on the student’s academic record/transcript. Therefore, as a general rule, it is best practice to make any course title as descriptive as possible of the material being covered by the course.
In addition, it is good practice to make sure a title does not place excessive burden on the reader of a transcript to know what subject/department abbreviations stand for. For example, if your course title is “Practicum” and the subject is NURS, you are probably fine, since a transcript reader would recognize NURS as Nursing; but the same title with a subject of PEXS is not descriptive enough and should probably read “Practicum in PE/Exercise Science,” since “PEXS” will not automatically bring “Physical Ed & Exercise Science” to mind for someone reading the student’s transcript.
In many cases, titling of courses requires extra care because of practical limitations on title length in the system and on the student’s printed transcript. In our current system, the title length limit is 28 characters, and in the PeopleSoft system it will be 30 characters. In some cases, this makes it very important to craft clear and communicative abbreviations when planning course titles.
Our current system was designed to allow the over-riding of course titles each term on individual class offerings. This was particularly useful for those courses designed as “topics courses,” where specific subject matter would vary from term to term. Thus, for example, a course with a standard title of “Topics in History” would appear in a semester schedule as “Top: History of Jazz & Blues.” In the PeopleSoft system, the standard course title of “Topics in History” will be retained on the student’s record and an additional topic title line will be available to attach to any section of a topics course. Both the standard title and the topic will print on the student’s transcript. In our example, the topic title of the section would be “Jazz and Blues,” and the student’s transcript would read “Topics in History” on one line, and “Jazz and Blues” on the line directly below it.
Three Course Categories
There are really three categories of courses when it comes to course offering, description, and transcription.
The first is the regular course record that is designed with a fixed title that will be used every term to describe the content of the course.
The second is the topics course record where the content of the course, and sections of the course, will vary from term to term. The topics course is also used to introduce a new content area on a temporary basis to “see if it will fly,” and if it does, a regular course is then added through the curricular process.
Student Topics Course
The third category is the readings (also independent study, etc.) course record, where each student will receive credit for course content that is individual to the student. For the purposes of record-keeping and transcription, it is possible, at the discretion of the academic department, to treat a readings course in the same fashion as a topics course by having each student register for an individual course section that would include a topic title that would describe the content that the student is individually covering.
Title specificity at the individual student level is not a common practice around the country or at UND. Most departments elect not to offer sections with student-specific topics, primarily because of the amount of work that is required in formalizing individual titles. In the case of readings courses, the individual titles are often not known until after classes begin, as students meet with instructors to agree on content, and obtaining such information can be difficult if a department is not organized to collect it promptly and efficiently.
For those departments that do elect to provide for individual student topics, the appropriate process is to provide the Registrar’s Office with individual student topics as soon as that information becomes available for a semester. Sometimes that can be prior to the start of the semester. However, for systemic as well as pedagogical reasons, the information needs to be provided no later than about 1/3 of the way through the duration of a class. The deadline to provide this information for the Fall 2004 semester is October 1, 2004. Similar deadlines will be established for future semesters.