Institutions of higher education have a tendency to be defined in
the public imagination by the curricular features that make them unique. Brown’s associated with the New Curriculum, Chicago with the Common Core, Colorado College with the Block Plan. In Saint Mary’s case, it’s the January Term and the Collegiate Seminar that provide uniquely defining assets. In many ways the Seminar defines a Saint Mary’s education; but Jan Term courses provide a glimpse at the breadth of intellectual opportunities at Saint Mary’s in a way that is immediately tangible.
Jan Term students travel the world, or stay at home investigating the world’s most intractable problems. A Jan Term course list could just about serve all Saint Mary’s marketing needs by itself; we just opened the Jan Term catalog at random to “Ecopoetry / Ecopoetics / (M)other Nature” and “Betting on Your Death.” It’s clear that a great deal of attention goes into the structure and function of Jan Term, as well as the materials that accompany it; we’d like the new Saint Mary’s Web site to benefit from some of that attention as well.
How can we bring SMC’s curriculum to life in a way that feels real to your students and prospects? Our
proposal is to create something relatively unique in higher ed (in intent, if not in name): rich, dynamic,
collaborative pages on a few of SMC’s interesting courses. Of course, many other courses outside
Jan Term are interesting too, and any of these recommendations can apply to any course (including
those in the Seminar). We’re only discussing Jan Term here because of its use as a differentiator.
- The Jan Term courses should be prominently highlighted on the site— for example, a randomly selected course title might appear occasionally in the sidebar of some content pages.
- We’d like to see unique, personalized pages for many of the Jan Term courses. These pages might include objectives, goals and prerequisites, but also photo galleries of student work; links to bookmarked Web sites that serve as resources for students as well as further reading for any visitors interested in the topic; any relevant RSS feeds, including class-specific Twitter feeds if any exist; links to blogs or other Web content created by students; and so on. The design of a Jan Term course template ought to be connected to its source material, much as the academic departments might have discipline-specific design elements.
- Wherever possible, creating Web content should be integrated into the curriculum of a Jan Term course. This can be done without adding a lot of additional work; rather, we’d like to see assignments take the form of Web postings (text or images) wherever that’s potentially relevant.
- The fact that ideas for Jan Term courses can be submitted via a public form is fascinating to us. Can students (or the public) submit ideas? We think that would be very exciting, and would like to see the submission form made more prominent. (It would certainly be fine to let submittors know that the odds of a course being accepted are relatively slim, if that’s the case.)
- Clearly not every one of the Jan Term courses will include a blogging component, and not every course is offered every year. We think the course profile pages ought to be permanent, though: when a course is in session its content will be dynamic, with posting of assignments, resources, and the like. And when it’s over, the page’s contents can be cleaned up and preserved, so visitors to the page can get a sense of the sorts of arguments, issues, and discoveries that characterized the work of the class.
- Communications staff, and especially the Web team, should keep an eye on what’s happening in these courses. It’s a small enough sample that activity in these courses could be monitored fairly easily. When something interesting arises— a compelling blog post, an interesting assignment, etc.—this ought to be captured and noted for followup by Communications.
- We know a lot of thought and effort goes into the design and composition of the annual Jan Term print catalog. We recommend that the designers and producers of this lovely and engaging document find ways to consider the Web in their process as well. Should there be a special microsite announcing the new Jan Term schedule of courses, with a design that reflects the design of the catalog? Should the SMC homepage mirror the look and feel of the catalog for a week or two after its release? There are many interesting ways to imagine the print catalog and the SMC Web in conversation.