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Course Policies & Guidelines

Course Learning Objectives

Course Learning Objectives (CLOs) are clear, concise statements of what learners will be able to perform at the conclusion of instructional activities. In other words, they complete the sentence, “Upon completion of this course, a student will be able to…”  CLO’s reflect the lower or upper division nature of a course and are measurable.  For assistance with writing good CLO’s for new course proposals, see Course Learning Objectives.

Instruction Mode and Units of Credit

Following are the California State University (CSU) system-wide component values that identify the mode of instruction for a course and the number of class meeting (contact) hours to be scheduled per unit of credit.

  • Lecture (LEC) – 1 contact hour per unit of credit
  • Laboratory (LAB) – 3 contact hours per unit of credit
  • Activity (ACT) – 2 contact hours per unit of credit
  • Seminar (SEM) – 1 contact hour per unit of credit
  • Discussion (DIS) – 1 contact hour per unit of credit
  • Independent Study (IND) – also known as supervision mode and involves independent work done by students under the guidance of the faculty and does not meet regularly in a classroom; a minimum of 3 hours of independent study per week per unit of credit

A course may have more than one mode of instruction.  For example, a 4-unit course may consist of 3 units of lecture and 1 unit of laboratory, so it is scheduled with 6 contact hours on a weekly basis.

When proposing a new course, refer to the CSU Definition of a Credit Hour to determine the appropriate number of credit units.

Instruction modes have different ‘CS numbers’ in the CSU Course Classification system.  These CS numbers in combination with a course’s credit units drive the calculation and generation of faculty workload, student credit units, and facility utilization.


Proposers should carefully consider which courses or requirements are logically and reasonably necessary for success in the course. A brief, clear explanation on the course proposal form to describe why each requisite is needed will be valuable to reviewers as well as providing a record for the department.

Requisites (if any) for a course are listed in the course’s description in the Catalog.

Prerequisite: Coursework to be completed and/or requirements to be met before taking the course.

Concurrent: Two or more courses that must be taken in the same term.

Corequisite: Course or courses that may be taken prior to the course being described (prerequisite) or in the same term (concurrent).

Recommended: Course with supporting content that is recommended, but is not required to be taken in a previous term or in the same term

Prerequisite Strings: Some prerequisites have their own prerequisites, forming a string of courses that must all be taken. The course description shows the last course in the prerequisite string of courses.

For example, ME 212 Engineering Dynamics has prerequisites of MATH 241; and ME 211 or ARCE 211. 

  • MATH 241 Calculus IV requires MATH 143, which requires MATH 142, which requires MATH 141.
  • ME 211 Engineering Statistics requires MATH 241; and PHYS 131 or PHYS 141.
  • To enroll in ME 212 Engineering Dynamics, students must have successfully completed MATH 241, MATH 143, MATH 142, MATH 141 and ME 211 or ARCE 211 and PHYS 131 or PHYS 141.

Take care to ensure that prerequisites do not unnecessarily interfere with students’ ability to enroll. The validity of each prerequisite should be considered in terms of how essential the material from the required prior (or concurrent) course will be in maximizing student progress in the new course. Prerequisites are not designed to enforce the flow of curriculum; curricular flow is enforced through Curriculum Flowcharts and good advising.

Hidden Prerequisites: A curriculum may not have "hidden" prerequisites.  If a course is a prerequisite for a required major or support course, then that prerequisite course must be included in the curriculum as a major or support course.  For example, for a curriculum requiring MATH 241 as a support course, MATH 141, 142 and 143 must also be listed as support courses.

Consent of Instructor: If a student does not meet a requisite as outlined in a course's description, but can demonstrate to an instructor that they have the necessary knowledge or skills through alternative means, then the instructor may grant the student permission to enroll in the course. Every course is open with instructor’s consent; this goes without saying in the course description.

Propose a New Course

Proposals for new courses are developed by faculty and submitted for approval through the Curriculum Management system. For basic instructions and business process guides on using the system, click here. For assistance with writing proposals, refer to the below examples of approved course proposals:

Early in the course proposal process, you should consult with faculty in other departments who may offer courses similar to the one you wish to propose. Other resources include your department head and college curriculum chairs, as well as the Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology.

A new course may be proposed outside of a catalog review cycle, if it does not create a new curriculum requirement for students on current or prior catalogs. For example, the new course may be an addition to a list of electives.

Refer to Submission Timelines for more information.

Crosslisted Course

A crosslisted course is the same course offered by multiple academic units as indicated by the course’s subject prefixes.  An example of a crosslisted course is BIO/CHEM 441 Bioinformatics Applications.

Crosslisted courses:

  • are shared by two or more academic units
  • have identical course elements (e.g. title, description, units, mode of instruction, prerequisites) except the course prefix which reflects the academic unit
  • are interchangeable for degree requirements
  • cannot be repeated for degree credit under separate subject prefixes
  • may be scheduled with the same instructor, room, and meeting pattern
  • may be scheduled with all, some, or one of the subject prefixes

Replacement Course

If the new course is similar in content to a prior or existing course that will no longer be offered, respond “yes” to the question in the online proposal form, asking whether it is a replacement course.  A replacement course:

  • is coded as the replacement for the prior course in the student administration system and degree progress report;
  • meets a curriculum requirement in a program in a prior or current catalog;
  • allows repeats to automatically process (if a student failed the prior course, he/she may use the replacement course as a repeat course);
  • has a different course number than the prior course;
  • may have a different title, unit value, course description, and/or prerequisite.

Note: If the course number, title, units, level and/or prerequisites change, but the catalog course description remains the same the course will be treated as a replacement for the prior course. If the department determines that the course is not a replacement for a prior course, the catalog course description must be changed.

(This information is needed for students, advisers, community college articulations, and the Office of the Registrar.)

Repeatable Course

If the new course may be repeated for credit, respond “yes” when asked in the online proposal form.  An example of a repeatable course is MU 170 University Jazz Band, which is a 1-unit course that may be repeated for up to 6 units. Note that repeating a course for credit is different from when a student repeats a course for grade improvement.

If a course may be repeated for credit, the online proposal from will prompt for further information:

  • What is the maximum number of units that may be earned in the course?  This information will be noted in the course description, e.g. “Total credit is limited to 4 units.”
  • Can the course be repeated for multiple credit in the same term?  This is common for courses offered with topics.  If multiple sections of a course with a different topic per section is offered in the same term, then the department may want to allow students to enroll and receive credit in more than one section.

Edit an Existing Course

Edits to existing courses are developed by faculty and submitted for approval through the Curriculum Management system. For basic instructions and business process guides on using the system click here.

Early in the course proposal process, you should consult your department head and college curriculum chairs.

Outside of a catalog review cycle, the only edits that may be proposed to a course are:

  • adding a crosslisting or
  • making the prerequisite less restrictive in order to support student enrollment, or
  • adding online delivery of a course that has traditionally been offered in-person (proposal is required only of more than 50% of the course’s contact hours are being replaced with technology)

Refer to Submission Timelines. The deadlines are structured to allow time for review and implementation prior to the class schedule being published for the term in which the requisite change goes into effect.

Propose a Course for General Education

To propose a course to meet a General Education requirement, follow the process for submitting new course proposals in the Curriculum Management system. Be sure to address the educational objectives and criteria for the relevant GE area:

Propose a Course for the United States Cultural Pluralism Requirement

To propose a course to meet the United States Cultural Pluralism (USCP) requirement, follow the process for submitting new course proposals in the Curriculum Management system. Be sure to address each of the criteria for USCP:

Propose a Course to be Taught Online

eLearning comprises all forms of electronically supported learning and teaching. It is the use of a computer-enabled environment in which students acquire skills and knowledge employing any form of electronic media content delivered on any type of platform.

 Courses developed using eLearning technologies may be delivered using a wide range and combination of methods including:

  1. Synchronous Instruction: Instructional activities where both instructor and students are engaging in activities at the same time.
  2. Asynchronous Instruction: Instructional activities where the instructor and/or some or all students engage in activities that are not necessarily occurring simultaneously.

Although the variety of course structure possibilities precludes a strict definition of course types, the primary factors that determine the teaching and learning experience are:

  1. The degree of computer-mediated faculty/student interaction - Faculty and students can interact face-to-face or in a computer-based virtual space in a scheduled or unscheduled manner. Computer mediated interaction could be mixed (e.g., "hybrid" courses with some traditional classroom lectures supplemented by video conferencing) or it could be complete (e.g., a course in which all faculty /student interaction occurs using a web-based video conference tool).
  2. The degree of technology replacement of faculty/student interaction - Technology can have a relatively limited role in course support (e.g., a course uses a small number of pre-recorded video lectures that are posted online) or technology could be used to completely replace faculty/ student interaction (e.g., a web-based, self-paced instructorless course).

Cal Poly has adopted the following definitions of traditional and online instruction.

  1. Definition of Traditional instruction courses are offered in the traditional mode with an instructor holding class sessions where students are expected to be physically present. Traditional instruction is also synchronous, with both instructor and students engaging in activities simultaneously."
  2. Definition of Online instruction is instruction delivered via an electronic network such as the Internet."

This policy shall apply to all new and existing credit-bearing courses and programs using eLearning technologies including online courses and programs offered by Cal Poly.

Cal Poly faculty have the collective and exclusive responsibility for determining the pedagogies, instructional methods, and best practices most appropriate for the instructional modules, courses, and academic programs.

Whenever a department or faculty group proposes to initiate a degree program in which more than 50% of content is offered online or more than 25 miles off-campus, approval in advance from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) is required under the latter's Substantive Change Policy.

The eLearning Addendum section in the online forms to edit a course or propose a new course must be completed for any new or existing courses in which a total of more than 5O% of traditional face-to-face instruction time is being replaced with eLearning technologies. Click the below link to view an example:

Example of eLearning Addendum

Additionally, faculty developing courses that use significant amounts of eLearning technology and faculty participating in curricular review are encouraged to consult the CSU Online Education Whitepaper for a list of assumptions and best practices relevant to the successful development, evaluation, and deployment of online course offerings.

This policy "AS-750-12 Resolution on eLearning Policy" was adopted by the Academic Senate May 29, 2012 and supersedes "AS-581-02 Resolution on Distance Education Policy".

Propose a Topic for a Topics Course

Courses that are taught with different topics or subtitles are referred to as "Topic Courses”. These are not to be confused with “Selected Topics Courses”. Example of a Topic Course: ENGL 439 Significant British Authors (4 units) repeatable to 12 units with different subtitle (e.g., "Jane Austen," "Victorian Poets," "Blake," "Hardy.")

 “Topics Courses” allow closely related course content to reside under one generic "umbrella” title, sharing the same learning outcomes and assessment methodologies. Topics Courses are shown in the catalog with generic "umbrella" titles but are offered under specific topics in the Class Schedule. Topics courses are usually repeatable with a different topic.

Each college determines its own internal review process for Topics Courses. Please check with your dean's office. Note: the College of Liberal Arts requires dean’s approval.

For topic approval and scheduling by the Office of the Registrar, either department chair/head or associate dean (depending on the process of the College) submits the topic to Susan Olivas, the associate Registrar.

Topics approved at least one month prior to the start of registration for a term can become valid that term.


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