Section 5.3

GUIDELINES FOR UPDATING COURSES

Courses and curricula evolve. Instructors continuously revise their courses to reflect changes in the field, deleting obsolete material to make room for new ideas and discoveries. Also, courses and curricula change as new faculty join the ranks and others depart. Evolution is not only inevitable; it should be welcomed.

We can recognize two kinds of evolution. One is similar to the process by which a workman might, in alternate years, replace first the head and then the handle of a hammer. After a couple of years, no parts of the original hammer would remain, but the tool would still perform the same function as it always did--only better, because the new parts are made of sturdier materials or are shaped for greater efficiency. The other kind of evolution involves substantive change, such as might happen if the workman replaced the hammer head with an axe head and then gave it a longer handle so it could be swung with two hands. The tool would no longer be a hammer.

When is a course simply "updated" or "modernized" like a hammer with a new handle and when has it changed so much that it is functionally a "new" course, like a hammer that has become an axe? Here are some possible ways to tell:

  • If a student could repeat the revised course and find that his/her old course handouts and text are still valuable as study guides, the course is probably "updated," not "new."
  • If the instructor could give a previous year's exams in this year's version of the course, the course is probably "updated," not "new."
  • If the primary course objectives and the major topic headings listed in the syllabus of the revised course are the same as those in the old syllabus, the course is probably "updated," not "new."
  • If the course number has changed but a student who has already earned credit for the "old" course will not be allowed to retake the course under the new number, the course is probably "updated," not "new."
  • If a student could transfer to another university and find that the revised BGSU course no longer maps on to the same course as the "old" version did, the course is probably "new," not "updated."
  • If the target audience for the course has changed, for example, from majors to non-majors or from first-year students to juniors and seniors, the course is probably "new," not "updated."
  • If the course format has changed radically (a studio course has become a small-group seminar, for example), the course is probably "new," not "updated."
  • If more than 2 or 3 basic characteristics of the course (e.g., title, description, credit hours, prerequisites) have changed, the course is probably "new," not "updated."

None of these is a foolproof test. Each has the word "probably" at its core. Still, they offer a sense of direction. (Notice, by the way, that these tests apply to courses with a "fixed" content. Seminars or Special Topics courses in which the content or the title vary with each offering are in a category of their own. In a sense, each new offering is an "updated" version that does not require Blue Sheet approval.)

What difference does it make whether a course is "updated" or "new"? As the tests suggested above indicate, the distinction can affect the way a course applies to a student's degree program, to his/her ability to transfer the course, and to his/her progress toward graduation. For this reason, it is important to be sure that changes in a course are described clearly and carefully to all interested audiences on campus, including departments in cognate areas, other college offices, and the office of Registration and Records.

Here's how to treat the two sorts of revision:

  • If a course has been "updated," you should inform the campus by completing an EZ Course Change Blue Sheet on which you check one or more of the boxes labeled "Modify Existing Course." The course will retain its course number.
  • If the course is "new," then you should use the Standard Course Change Blue Sheet to eliminate the old course and submit the revision as a new offering. You can do this "drop/add" process on a single Blue Sheet, rather than doing it in two steps--just check both the "New Course" and "Eliminate Course" boxes. The resulting new course cannot have the same number as the old course did.

Should you ever have a question about how to describe the evolutionary changes to a course under your supervision, please contact your College Associate Dean for Curriculum.

Undergraduate Council--Bowling Green State University March 1999