Clever, Catchy, Descriptive? A Forum on Effective Course Naming

I know most of us are worried primarily about the end of the fall semester, but lately the spring has been on my mind as I begin prepping for its courses. I’m pretty sure one of my classes for the spring will not make—there aren’t enough students registered at the moment and the rush of registrants has ended. I think it’s partly a function of being a new faculty member at this institution: students here can access data about teachers’ student evaluations, for instance, but I have none yet by which potential students could evaluate me. But I think it’s also partly my own fault, for trying to be too clever with the course title. It was to be an upper-level, undergraduate seminar, and I tried to give it a title that would speak to its content—in this case, nineteenth-century popular print culture—but in a cheeky, slightly irreverant way. Looking at the course title again, I realize it was probably opaque to students not in the know about the course’s content, particularly if they didn’t read the course description. And we know that many, many students register for courses without reading course descriptions.

We all want to distinguish our courses, particularly upper-level courses that aim to do more than survey a given field. We want to appeal to students, attract those who might not think they’re interested in our topic, and suggest why we find a subject compelling. At some institutions or in some departments, there can be pressure from the administration to attract more students. How have you effectively balanced the need to craft interesting course titles with the need to craft informative course titles? I realize answers may vary widely by field, but I’d love to hear your tips for creating course titles that catch students’ attention while still giving them much-needed context. Please share your tips in the comments!

[Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user crimsong19.]

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