How to Write a College Course Proposal

New courses keep the curriculum fresh and relevant.
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Writing a college course proposal is an exciting and creative endeavor when you have an idea for developing or substantially revising a course. Schools generally have a formal process for proposing courses that must be strictly followed. Although the steps may vary from school to school, generally you need to prepare a detailed rational and explanation of your new course for presentation to a faculty committee responsible for curricular revisions, and you'll also be expected to show that you consulted with colleagues in your department and have their support.


Early in the process, visit with your department chair and professors in your department to discuss your idea and gain their endorsement, as recommended by authors Ashcroft and Foreman-Peck in "The Lecture’s Guide to Quality and Standards in Colleges and Universities." Proposing a course is a political process that requires convincing other faculty that the course is needed, worthwhile, appropriately rigorous and not a duplication of existing courses. If you want to teach the course, be expected to show how you have sufficient training and expertise.

Begin writing your proposal by listing the title of the course, prerequisites and the number of credits that can be earned. Indicate whether the class is required of certain majors or offered as an elective. It’s especially important to provide a solid rationale with evidence that there’s justification for the course. For example, you may want to provide research showing that employers who hire students in your field report that recent graduates lack a particular skill that your department is not currently teaching, and your course would meet that need. Elaborate on the purpose of the course.

Articulate the theories, principles, concepts, topics, techniques and competencies that will be taught in the course being proposed. Don’t simply list an outline of the text book you plan to use because you or other faculty teaching the course may decide to use a different text book. Note what specific skills or knowledge students will attain when you outline learner outcomes that the course intends to achieve. Explain how the new course enhances the existing curriculum.

Indicate whether the proposed course will be primarily lecture, traditional classroom or online, class discussion, fieldwork, hands-on practice, laboratory or independent study. Additionally, you may be asked to describe specific teaching methods. For example, Brown University’s online course proposal form asks instructors to describe the pedagogy to be used, such as the Socratic method, lectures, laboratory experiments, peer instruction, computer applications, small group projects and videos.

Identify how you’ll measure what students are learning. For example, methods for assessing the degree to which students are mastering course content can include exams, research papers, portfolios of students’ work, oral presentations, reflection papers, clinical observation, peer critique and self-evaluation. Explain how students will be graded in a fair and consistent manner.

Attach supporting documentation. As part of the course proposal process, you may be encouraged or required to provide supplemental information such as your curriculum vitae and a course syllabus. This information assists the curriculum committee in reviewing your qualifications and the scholarly contribution of the proposed course to the university.

Dr. Mary Dowd is a dean of students whose job includes student conduct, leading the behavioral consultation team, crisis response, retention and the working with the veterans resource center. She enjoys helping parents and students solve problems through advising, teaching and writing online articles that appear on many sites. Dr. Dowd also contributes to scholarly books and journal articles.