Short courses enhance Iowa State curriculum

Short course intensives generally last for half of a semester. These short courses are a way for students to expand on certain skill sets or explore an interest they have which may not line up with their future career goals.

Sage Smith

Among the full semester, three or four credit courses, there are short course intensives available for students to take.

These short course intensives are often half semester courses for students to explore an interest or certain skills. Students generally receive one credit for them.

Amy Slagell is the associate dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences Administration and the director of communications for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Slagell said she thinks these short courses is one of the ways the university is being more innovative.

“I think the [short] courses are exciting,” Slagell said. “They’re just an added value. They’re something that not everybody is going to have access to, they’re not in the regular course offerings and so it creates kind of a new opportunity to enhance your curriculum with a particular focus.”

Some colleges at Iowa State don’t offer these short course intensives while others may offer multiple. The Greenlee School of Journalism offers a few each semester.

Debra Gibson is an associate professor of practice in Iowa State’s Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication. Gibson is also the Meredith professional in residence. She primarily teaches writing courses including feature writing and fashion and beauty writing.

“We call them intensives because the idea is that you offer this information over relatively abbreviated amount of time,” Gibson said.

Gibson is also a member of the Greenlee curriculum committee, which is where the conversation of adding short course intensives to the Greenlee school began.

“[The committee] is where we started bouncing around these ideas about ‘How can we incorporate more current industry practices and technologies into our existing curriculum?,’” Gibson said. “All in the name of trying to keep our students as knowledgeable and up to date about everything new that’s happening in journalism, advertising and public relations before they graduate.”

Short course intensives go through a proposal process just like all courses offered at Iowa State go through a proposal and review process.

“Faculty generate their ideas,” Slagell said. “They have conversations within their department, there’s usually a faculty approval from a department curriculum committee.”

Slagell said for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the proposal will go to the curriculum committee for the college. The committee looks at aspects such as making sure there aren’t duplicated courses and reviewing what the learning expectations are.

These short courses can be a way for students to explore an interest they have that might not match up with their future career goals. The short courses can also allow students to expand on a certain skill without taking a full semester course.

“Many students are really interested in being able to develop particular skill sets,” Slagell said. “And we know from conversations with employers that having those kinds of opportunities can help them have good talking points and to have things on their resumes that are intensive and focused.”

Some short course intensives are even shorter than half a semester. A short course taught by Gibson is for one weekend. The course, ‘From Posts to Profits: How to Tackle Social Media Influencer Marketing,’ is being offered again for the spring 2020 semester.

This course is focused on social media engagement from the perspective of brand managers and influencers.

“It’s very real life, which I appreciate,” Gibson said. “And I’m probably going to be doing a little less lecturing this next time around. The students like the idea of in class assignments, so we did some opportunities, I put together some projects that they could work on for short periods in the class.”

Two students who took Gibson’s social media influencer course this semester were Chase Kusel, senior in public relations, and Madison Pincombe, senior in journalism and mass communication. Kusel said the course was finished in September, leaving more time to focus on other classes, especially during Finals Week.

As a senior, Kusel said he wished he knew about short courses earlier so he could take more of them and recommends them to other students. Kusel also said he would like to see more short courses and to see advisers encourage students to take them.

“It was awesome,” Pincombe said. “And it’s just a really specified topic, which doesn’t always work in longer-term classes. I thought it was cool to get to explore something like that.”

The Department of Animal Science has offered short courses in the past. Jennifer Bundy is an assistant professor in the animal science department. Bundy also serves as the academic advising coordinator and the learning committee coordinator for the animal science undergraduate programs.

The Department of Animal Science previously offered a short course focused on the handling of livestock. The department has also offered an equine handling course.

Bundy said the livestock handling course was great for students who come to animal science but are from urban or suburban backgrounds. The course was popular with students and allowed them to engage with livestock.

The course is currently not being taught, as the instructor responsible is no longer available to teach it and Bundy said they have been unable to find someone to take over the course.

“I really hope we find someone to teach that soon because it is so beneficial for even students who come from a livestock background,” Bundy said. “Sometimes they come in and have experience with one species, so this course would give them experience or the availability to interact with a lot of different species.”

Another bonus of short courses is they allow more time for faculty during the semester, as they can have busy schedules as well, Bundy said.

“If you’re teaching a half semester course, then you have the other half of the semester to focus on research, focus on you’re extension activities,” Bundy said.

By having the option of short courses, colleges are able to add more content into their curriculum. Gibson said they want students to have a working knowledge and the start of new skill sets, which they can communicate to potential employers during an interview for an internship or other position.

“You just have to be selective about what kind of material that you offer because there’s not an opportunity to do the deep dive on a lot of things,” Gibson said. “Also I think you pay attention to the response and to what students are saying at the end.”

If a short course seems popular among students, curriculum committees can look into making the course a full semester one.

While not all of Iowa State’s colleges offer short courses specific to their curriculum, students can take some of the short courses through other colleges.

Kathy Weaver, academic adviser for the business undergraduate program, works with students as they plan their courses for the next academic semester. Weaver said the short courses can also be a way to fill a credit requirement for graduation.

“I think a lot of what our students will tend to choose, if they’re looking at half semester courses, will be potentially a natural science or an international perspective to help them meet a degree requirement,” Weaver said. “Or potentially a random elective.”

Students can also use short courses as a way to pick up more credits without adding a cost during the semester once they are at the full-time student status. These courses can also help a student maintain full-time status if they drop a class they were struggling with or are looking for a more relaxed schedule, whether that be to reduce stress or allow more time to work.

Students interested in finding a short course to take can speak with their academic adviser, professors, instructors or look through the course catalog for their respective college.

“We’re always looking for other topic areas that we think would be helpful to students to have a grasp of before they leave here and also that they’d be interested in,” Gibson said. “I would encourage any students who have ideas about what they want information about or what they’d like to see in that format to reach out and let us know because we love that feedback.”