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02/25/2021

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Rosa

We're developing a new PPE major at my university that will mostly draw from current offerings in the three departments, but we're developing a new course for it called "Politics, Philosophy, and Economics: How to Change the World." We're offering it for the first time in the fall, so we'll see what enrollments look like!

Anon

My former colleague Ken Boyd titled his critical thinking course, "How to Win an Argument". (https://kennethboyd.wordpress.com/teaching/) I think that was a success!

Michael Cholbi

At my previous institution, the philosophy of death and dying course was 'Confrontations with the Reaper' (apologies to Fred Feldman!).

Marcus Arvan

Michael: cool sounding course and course title. If they ever rename it, I nominate “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” ;) https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Dy4HA3vUv2c

Trevor Hedberg

I don't have any insight into course titles that work _well_ with students, but I do have insight into one case where a fanciful title has worked poorly. I teach a course in my current post about the ethics of human enhancement. (It's an applied ethics course covering topics like performance-enhancing drugs in sport, the use of anti-depressants, the prospects of anti-aging medicine, etc.) Unfortunately, the person who originally got the course approved via the registrar named it "Drugs, Human Enhancement, and the Mastery of Nature." Since the course title makes no mention of ethics, I routinely get students who enroll in the class expecting it to be a course in the pharmaceutical sciences: after all, it is taught via the College of Pharmacy. Yes, the course description on the registrar's website makes it clear that it's an ethics course, but most students do not read those course descriptions. I'm always able to get some of these students to enjoy the course anyway, but a fair number of them drop within the first week.

So I think it's important to not title your course in a way that might mislead students with regard to their expectations regardless of how catchy or grand the title of the course is.

Malcolm

One difficulty with cool names for courses is how they appear on transcripts. In contexts where employers or graduate schools take these titles seriously, naming a course something fun but inscrutable can backfire. So it's worth considering that, too, when coming up with names.

Grim

Malcolm
I am with you. Indeed, if we play to a popular audience too much, then our discipline gets seen as a "bird course"-type of discipline. Students talk about the cool courses, which in the end, either do not live up to students' (low) expectations, or make philosophy look trite to others on campus. I had an experience with this at one place and my colleagues were bent on taking the department in the causal direction. I think they are now reaping what they sowed.

Andrew

I want to second what Malcolm said! As an undergrad I took a (great) course with the most absurdly condescending name. It was genuinely comparable to something like 'Cool Philosophy Concepts for Beginners'. I was so embarrassed submitting my transcript for grad school applications. I know this is an extreme case, but even for the milder examples pleae think about, for instance, your students who want to do STEM subjects, the members of whose admissions committees are likely already sceptical of the seriousness of philosophy as a discipline. This danger is doubly bad in the UK/Europe, where taking electives outside one's degree subject aren't really a thing, so a 'silly' course like this can't be 'written off' as fulfilling a gen. ed. requirement. (And yes, people over there do go from philosophy degrees to STEM postgraduate programs.)

AJ

I'd like to give my perspective on things as someone who is currently an undergrad. As some of the other people have said, I don't think that a "cooler" name necessarily results in students being more interested. Most of my favorite courses, philosophy or otherwise, have had fairly generic names, and the generic nature of the names did not dissuade me from choosing them. I think other things like quality/teaching methods of the professor, knowledge about what the course would entail, personal recommendations from friends and trusted faculty members etc. had a far larger impact on whether I chose to attend a course than its name.

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