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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

How are classes created?

Chairs of committees on courses of instruction provide insight to process of course creation

The wide array of course that are offered at UC Davis each quarter is something many students fail to think about on a day-to-day basis. However, the processes related to course creation are not as simple as they might seem.

“The Committee on Courses of Instruction (COCI) is the campus committee. Each college has its own committee and some departments have their own committee as well, but COCI is the Academic Senate committee for the whole campus,” said UC Davis Plant Sciences Professor and COCI Chair Daniel Potter. “The main function and responsibility of the committee is to review all the proposals that come in from all over the campus and approve them, request clarification of particular points, or not approve them.”

Potter, who has been chair of COCI for almost two years now, became the head of the group after serving on a number of other committees, including the Undergraduate Council and the Program Review committee.

“I’m interested in seeing the different kinds of courses that people create,” Potter said. “As the campuswide committee, we review courses from all over the campus – not just in my area – so that was intriguing to me…Courses are what make the diversity in terms of the educational aspect.”

In order for a faculty member to start the process of creating a new course, they must submit a form with all the relevant course information to the integrated curriculum management system (ICMS) online. Once the form is completed and submitted, it is approved by the department chair, then is passed along to the college committee, and finally reaches the Academic Senate before being sent to the registrar.

“If they want to make a new course, they pull up the form online that has blanks for all the relevant information,” said UC Davis Molecular and Cellular Biology professor and College of Biological Sciences’ COCI Chair Jeanette Natzle. “[Information] like how many units [the course is], what kind of learning activities, what the course description is, what the prerequisites are, and then there’s a space for expanded description, whether there will be a final exam — all those elements [have to be filled in].”

Potter created an ethnobotony — the culture that surrounds plants and the human relation to them — class upon coming to Davis almost 19 years ago, which he still teaches today.

“It wasn’t being taught here, and there was a fair amount of student interest in it,” Potter said. “The system was slightly different back then but not [by much]; the mechanics were a little different but the process wasn’t.”

It is each individual college committee’s responsibility to ensure that each new course is ready for the Academic Senate.

“We have meetings usually every month where we look at proposed course changes and student petitions,” said UC Davis Mechanical Engineering professor and the College of Engineering’s COCI Chair Benjamin Shaw. “So we have to approve or not approve petitions and put it in the system.”

Shaw is also a former member of the Academic Senate.

“When I was on the Academic Senate committee on courses of instruction, we found that a lot of times the same errors kept showing up time and time again, usually kind of simple things,” Shaw said. “We put a system in place just to look for these really simple errors and make sure those are fixed before the full review starts. Then it would go to the college level committee and we would look at it in detail.”

Along with overseeing the proposals for new courses or changes in courses, the college committees also oversee and approve any changes that departments want to make in their major requirements, as well as discuss and offer opinions on various curriculum and educational policy matters.

“Most of our meetings are face-to-face meetings, because that sort of give-and-take of different opinions from different people and departments is an important part of the process,” Natzle said. “If we’re looking at new course proposals we’ll see a connection or a problem that someone else won’t and then we can all discuss it together.”

Although various people can provide input to the course’s design, it’s usually a faculty member who initiates the formal process. However, this does not mean that graduate and undergraduate students are completely left out of the class creation process.

“Just within the last year we created a new policy that allows undergraduate students to teach a class under the [counsel] of a faculty member,” Potter said. “There are occasionally students who’re interested in doing that and so we just created a formal mechanism for them to be able to do that.”

In fact, students are directly involved in the process of providing input for proposed classes, and work closely with the members of each COCI to provide the best possible curriculum for each course offered.

“We have a student member on our college committee. There are student members on the Academic Senate committee as well [to provide input] before the course goes all the way through the whole process — especially about curriculum matters and educational policy issues,” Natzle said. “All of the faculty that participate on these curriculum committees are really concerned about providing the best educational experiences for students.”

Graphic by Jennifer Wu.

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