The Ideal Course Description

Ideal Course Description — Revised 9/26/22

Course descriptions offer students a brief overview of course content. They summarize course focus and may present central questions.  Descriptions should engage readers while reflecting the college’s style and standards. To that end, descriptions must achieve these goals:

  • Summary offers a broad idea of the course focus but does not specify details that may confine course development
  • Style speaks to students as the primary audience and reflects the instructor’s or department’s personality and approach to teaching
  • Sentences are written in present tense and active voice  (e.g., “This seminar emphasizes . . . ,” “Students read and discuss . . . .”) 
  • Pronouns establish a common level of formality with third person plural (e.g., “students” and “their”) instead of “we” and “our”)
  • “Nuts and bolts” define credit grading (P/N only), prerequisites and/or recommended precursor courses, additional fees, and, finally, times of year the course is offered
  • Titles include name of course, credit information (when other than 1.0 credit), and study abroad or away status (when applicable)
  • Sentences are complete, expressed with engaging style, grammatically accurate, and free of misspellings.

Word count: Course descriptions must be no more than 75 words, not counting the “nuts and bolts” information at the end.

Additional Advice: Avoid specific reading lists or assignments unless a course always requires that approach.  Being somewhat generic eliminates the need to update a course description every time an instructor changes elements of a course. 

The following descriptions exemplify the above principles:


ASIAN 121: Asian Cultures in Comparative Perspectives

This course is a broad introduction to the history of East Asia as a region from the end of the nineteenth century to the 1990s. Through three spatial modules — the Sinophone (Chinese-speaking) World, the Korean Peninsula, and the Japanese Archipelago — students explore the interconnections and divisions between emergent nation-states and empires at a time of rapid social, cultural, and political change. Offered annually. Also counts toward Chinese and Japanese majors.


BI/ES 286: Tropical Ecology and Sustainable Land Use in Costa Rica (study abroad)

This course offers students the opportunity to study first-hand the most diverse ecosystems on earth. In this intensive field-oriented course students explore lowland rainforest, montane forest, dry forest, and coastal and agricultural ecosystems through projects and field trips. Students read and discuss texts and primary literature specific to ecology, evolution, conservation, and agricultural practices of each area, and keep reflective journals. Offered during Interim in alternate years. Apply through the Smith Center for Global Engagement. Prerequisite: one science course.


 CLASS 252:  Vergil and Latin Epic

Lord Tennyson called Vergil the “wielder of the stateliest measure ever moulded by the lips of man.” Students encounter that stately measure when they translate selections from Vergil’s three major poems (Eclogues, Georgics, Aeneid). They also engage in spirited discussion of Homer’s influence on Vergil and of Vergil’s influence on the literature, art, and music of Western civilization. Prerequisite: Latin 231 or equivalent. Offered in alternate years.


ECON 376: Labor Economics and Employment Relations

What do workers want from work? What do employers want from workers? Pressing policy issues exist for workers competing in the global economy. Unions, unemployment insurance, welfare, and the minimum wage enhance the prospects of many while leaving others even worse off. This course utilizes microeconomic theory, statistics, and institutional analysis to understand labor markets. Offered annually. Prerequisites: ECON 262 and STAT 263 or STAT 316, or permission of instructor.


RACE 121: Introduction to Race and Ethnic Studies

This course introduces critical concepts and key readings important to the emergence and flourishing of the field of Ethnic Studies. Students learn about racial formation and difference in U.S. and comparative cultural and historical contexts, with attention to how race intersects with class, gender, nation, and sexuality. Assigned readings and other resources acquaint students with interdisciplinary approaches and the role of racial equity and social justice in shaping this academic field. Offered annually. Also counts toward Latin American studies major and Africa and the African Diaspora and Latin American studies concentrations.


PHYS 160: Introduction to Engineering Design

This course takes a holistic, process approach to design. Student teams identify human-centered needs, define problems, develop and prototype solutions, test, redesign, and present final recommendations. This hands-on course emphasizes the application of scientific principles, analysis, and design to real world problems. Students write throughout the course to develop and share ideas. Offered annually during Interim. Prerequisites: MATH 119 or MATH 120 and at least one of the following: PHYS 130, PHYS 124, CHEM 121, CHEM 122, CHEM 125, CH/BI 125, BIO 150, PSYCH 125, CSCI 121, or permission of instructor.


SPAN 232: Latinx Experiences in the United States

Students explore the diverse cultural histories and identities of Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, and Puerto Ricans (among other Latinx groups) by considering how ethnicity, race, language, gender, and social class manifest themselves in U.S. histories of citizenry, immigration, economy, and education through generations of Latinxs. Class activities foster analysis of historical and autobiographical texts to reflect on how power and privilege intersect and shape students’ own experiences. Attendance at cultural events required. This intermediate II-level Spanish course is offered every semester and during Interim. Does not count toward Spanish major. Prerequisite: SPAN 231 or placement.