What is a college or university course?

This is a variation on my previous post. When students “take” a college course, what exactly are they getting?

I suspect students think of a course as consisting primarily of the class sessions they attend, 3-4 hours per week, for a term lasting 14 weeks, where they hope to learn something about the subject. Think of the metaphor of a train. You get on the train; the trip runs its course; you get off the train in a better place. In fact, a course is bigger than that, hopefully much bigger.

The term course is shorthand for course (or regimen) of study. This is an endeavor that will be hard work at times, but that if you persevere, will be tremendously rewarding at the end, leaving you with a sense of accomplishment like climbing a mountain.

So what is this endeavor? A course consists of everything involving study towards the goal of learning the subject, including class sessions, outside discussions with other students and the instructor, course readings, assignments, study, reflection, etc. A specific course is probably best defined by its syllabus. This syllabus is implicitly or explicitly vetted and validated by the academic department, the institution’s curriculum committee and thus the institution’s faculty at large.

One final point: A course is not something done to or for the student by the instructor. True, a course is pursued under the supervision of an instructor, but for maximal learning to occur the student must actively participate in and indeed take responsibility for their learning. In other words, the instructor can’t pull you up the mountain. If you don’t do it yourself, you won’t see the whole view.

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3 Responses to What is a college or university course?

  1. Right On.

    And what do all the courses of study add up to? What’s the destination college carries you toward? A better journey….

    Life is a curriculum.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I second Gardner’s “Right On.”

    If you don’t already do this, you might consider giving this post to your students at the begining of the semester – it will focus everyone on your approach that learning is a partnership. Unfortunately, I don’t think that this approach is a universal principle by any stretch, and I don’t think we can assume students hold this view either.

  3. Pingback: The Tyranny of the Contact Hour (or is it the Tyranny of the Text?) | Pedablogy: Musings on the Art & Craft of Teaching

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