Sunday, September 27, 2009

Cross-listing courses and Interdisciplinarity, part 1

Cross-listing Courses and Interdisciplinarity, part 1



This is actually one of those few times where I'm posting about something of particular relevance to something happening at SLAC, even though I'm sure that y'all have all dealt with such things before. One of the reasons I'm posting is because I told a colleague I would, and would share with hir the comments that are left. So zie is sworn to silence about this blog. And cannot share it with anybody else. Otherwise, I might not be able to continue blogging, if a ton of my colleagues start reading this. And that would be a shame, since I'm up to judge the Cliopatria Awards this year. Dunno which category yet, but watch this space for more on that.


Anyhoo ... cross-listing. Last week, a colleague asked me whether zie could cross-list a course as a history course. As department chair, it's my call. This ended up opening up a few cans of worms, not the least of which is a conversation about interdisciplinarity. One of the other cans was how different my own ideas about cross-listing seem to conflict with what seems to have been the norm at SLAC. The feeling I've got from speaking to more senior colleagues is that cross-listing has often been treated as a sort of unofficial barter system based on the way FTEs have been counted: a faculty member wants to teach a course in a special topic, but the course won't make unless it's cross-listed with another department, because students don't have a lot of electives to spare. So the course gets cross-listed, the faculty member gets to teach the cool class because there are enough students, and the department that allows the cross-listing gets credit for additional FTEs that accrue into the departmental total.

To be honest, I've never seen anything like this before, but then, most of my teaching experience is at state schools. My response to the request was in line with what I've seen done elsewhere -- I asked for a syllabus and typical assignments, and said that, in order for a course to be listed in my discipline, it needed to clearly address and fulfill my department's outcomes and assess them in ways consistent with what my departmental colleagues and I have agreed are acceptable for courses at that level, and are consistent with what we actually do. My initial rationale for this was pretty basic -- our accreditors require that we show that we do the things we say we do, so if a course is listed as history, it has to do those things, and I have to be able to work the assessment data into my annual assessment report, which means comparing apples to apples. Period.


There are other ramifications that have come to light here that I want to talk about, because they touch on things like gatekeeping, interdisciplinarity, and our own definitions of our fields. And my own personal pet peeve, which I sort of worry plays into it: the idea that anybody can teach history. But before I go there, I'd like to put out a call for input especially on how your campus goes about cross-listing courses. If you could comment below, I'd really appreciate it. I checked with the institution where I taught for the longest time pre-SLAC, and it was even more complicated than I remembered. First, a faculty member would approach the cross-listing department or program with a syllabus in hand. That syllabus would have to reflect the outcomes of the cross-listing department and assessments for those outcomes. Next, once verbal agreement was reached, the faculty member would fill out a course proposal form and get sign-off from both department chairs and the dean. Then, the proposal would go through the regular curriculum committee process, which could take up to several months, and the course would be approved for the next academic year.

Now, one problem with this particular approach at SLAC is that, if in a case like mine, it's a special topics course being cross-listed as a special topics course, then that would mean that all courses taught in both departments under the special topics numbers would be forever linked. That's just a bad idea. But we have a rule that we can't add new courses permanently until they've been taught twice successfully as special topics. Be that as it may, my own impression is that most institutions handle cross-listing more as former college does. Or am I wrong? How does it work at your place?

9 comments:

Steve Muhlberger said...

At our place, applicant must satisfy the department that they want to crosslist with that the course really fits. I can't remember if we've ever crosslisted a special topics course -- I think not.

newkidonthehallway said...

This isn't the most helpful comment because I don't remember exactly what the process was for establishing cross-listings, but I know that at Rural Utopia, a student once registered for history independent study credits taught by someone not in the history department, and that got changed fairly quickly (the faculty in question was an adjunct not really associated with any department, since they taught women's studies, which wasn't its own dept there, and was not trained as a historian). I think it used to be that cross-listings were with the interdisciplinary departments that didn't have an independent existence but had majors/minors, so for instance, I think you could take African-American history as either History or Af-Am Studies if you were trying to get Af-Am Studies credit (but I don't think they do it that way any more; you just take Hist and it counts for Af-Am).

Former College was very strict about cross-listings. AFAIK, the only actual cross-listed courses were taught by people in interdisciplinary depts (like Classics) whose had graduate work in history (we had 1/8 of a historian position in the Classics dept). We also had a Historical Perspectives (or the like) gen ed requirement, and the history department was pretty gate-keeper-y about what could count for that requirement (it was a bit odd because it was a premise of the requirement system that they couldn't be taken over by departments, i.e., the Hist. Persp. requirement couldn't *only* be met by history classes. But the history department was also adamant that, e.g., Art History/Music History classes automatically qualify - they had to be vetted for actual history stuff.

Stephen Chrisomalis said...

Next year I'm planning on offering a special topics seminar in the anthropology of writing systems and literacy, which I would like to crosslist as a linguistics course. I won't be able to crosslist it for the reason you mention (it would link ANT7xxx with LIN7xxx in perpetuity). My only option appears to be to allow linguistics students to take it as a directed study, but that won't help me if the 'main' course doesn't make, which is a possibility.

On the other hand, for general courses there seems to be a very liberal crosslisting policy here. I know of one graduate course that is crosslisted in six departments (anthropology, sociology, history, nursing, social work, and library science)! Even when courses aren't crosslisted, many smaller departments' programs allow you to count many courses from other departments towards their majors or MA programs.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Ooh -- Stephen C, that's a good point. My department actually requires a couple of courses outside the department for the major, and we can count some courses towards the major or minor on an individual basis.

Jonathan Dresner said...

all courses taught in both departments under the special topics numbers would be forever linked.

That's just wrong, and probably the result of bad programming. I'm sorry.

My current institution doesn't seem to do a lot of cross-listing, except in the interdisciplinary certificates (like Women's Studies) but I'm still new here. My last institution didn't have anywhere near the documentation requirements you've described, but it was very rare for the History department to accept cross-listing; the most notable exception was a business history course taught by someone who had a history degree as well as the business degrees, so obviously still holding to a strong sense of disciplinary boundaries.

There, the main resistance to cross-listing came from the Registrar, who hated doing it (especially my Japanese Women's History course, which was triple-listed!) because of the technical difficulties. I'm not sure, honestly, how the FTEs were counted, but while I was there, they changed the system so that cross-listing was a formality: students could only register for the course under the originating department's code.

Susan said...

In our system cross listing has to go through all the curriculum committees. I hadn't thought about it, but it would have to meet the program learning objectives etc.

By the way, my word is covens, which are cross listed between history and something else :)

Belle said...

Hmm. Interesting; at RNU, cross listing is done all the time in special topics and honors classes above the 2000 level. It's largely a very casual affair - we run into the dept chair at something else, mention we want to do a seminar on X, and they offer to cross list it. Or emails are exchanged, general outline of approach and assignments, and I don't remember anybody ever being upset with a yes or a no.

Your mention of assessment sets me into a new direction; I'm the assessment person, and will have to review that what we're doing that meets our requirements.

A recent comment in a Gen Ed meeting set off a new round of gatekeeping: a music prof insisted that his class in History of Music should be counted as a Gen Ed history course. Theatre profs suggested that their classes that require writing count as comp classes. In a completely ass-backwards way, the assessment route might be our best defense.

TheCrankyProfessor said...

Oh lemme tell you - anyone can teach a course with Piktures, too.

Our latest problem was a new hire in English who has a sideline in graphic novels. That's art history, of course.

Except that his syllabus, suggested readings, and assignments showed no sign of engagement with - you know - the VISUAL in the jumped up comic books.

We regretfully declined the cross-listing pending more evidence.

Now we DO cross-list a lot of courses of ours into interdisiplinary programs, but very few things cross list into disciplines/departments.

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