Course catalogue materials—namely, the title of your course and brief course description which students see through the my.harvard portal—may seem somewhat disconnected from the process of course design. You may consider these aspects of your course to be mere "advertising" (or, depending on how you believe students select their courses, to be altogether irrelevant). Yet the act of composing your course description can be a useful "self-test" on the road to great course design. Challenging yourself to describe the central issue(s) of your course, the kinds of material students will encounter, and the goals which you have for them by the end of the semester in a brief paragraph can be just the thing to clarify the voice in which your syllabus and assignment prompts will speak.
A Template for Catalogue Materials
There is no magic recipe that dictates what makes for an effective and compelling course description; there are well-designed courses whose descriptions focus more on the core questions which the coursehead wishes to explore, and others which put the emphasis more on the kinds work which students will be asked to produce. Nevertheless we suggest that instructors find a way to perform three key moves in their descriptions:
- Identify the major question(s) at the heart of the course
- Describe the raw material or day-to-day experience which students will encounter in the course. What kinds of texts will they read? What kinds of datasets will they analyze? Will they hear from guest speakers?
- Describe (if relevant) the capstone assignment that students will complete. What will a student have made and/or be able to do upon completion of the semester?
See below for an annotated title and description.