V.18 Directed and Independent Study
In recent years, several questions have come up regarding the use of Directed Study course numbers (usually X98 and X99). Directed Study experiences are considered high-value research opportunities for students, and the campus observes the rate of participation in these experiences as part of our efforts to ensure that students obtain a rich and varied "Wisconsin Experience." To facilitate this effort, the L&S Curriculum Committee has developed a series of guidelines to support departments' ability to offer these important instructional opportunities.
As noted in the Undergraduate Catalog, several regulations apply to how students may use Directed Study. These regulations apply to three general categories:
When the L&S Curriculum Committee surveyed faculty members who had recently taught Directed Study courses, many respondents asked for more guidance about best practices for these courses. Aware that practices will differ widely both between and within divisions, the Committee was reluctant to issue regulations beyond the criteria described above; however, the committee encourages the faculty within departments and programs to discuss their collective expectations for Directed Study courses taught within their Timetable subject listings. These discussions should help to ensure consistency with respect to important features of Directed Study (e.g., nature of projects, per-credit workload, sharing of model “learning contracts”), and may help the faculty work with students to design projects appropriate to a given discipline.
To help the faculty match students and projects to appropriate courses and levels of instruction, a range of Directed Study numbers are available. If these courses do not already exist in the Timetable subject listing, they may be created using the standard course proposal process (see Chapter I.3, section “Course Proposals”).
Do not use Directed Study courses for group instruction. By definition, “Directed Study” experiences assume an individually mentored or directed learning experience. Such experiences are qualitatively different from group instruction, and the student’s transcript reflects this difference. Furthermore, per L&S policy, students are allowed to pursue, and count for degree credit, advanced-level Directed Study experiences regardless of the college in which they are offered: this policy reflects the belief that experiences in which a student is engaged in one-on-one interactions with a member of the faculty are inherently of value to liberal education. The substitution of a group instruction experience is contrary to the spirit of Directed Study.
This perspective is expressed in the L&S Student Academic Affairs Policy Book:
Thus, when a Directed Study course is used, it should be taught as Directed Study. These course numbers are not intended to provide a regular mechanism for teaching variable topics in a group instruction format. Topics courses (at various levels) can and should be proposed and approved via the usual course proposal process, described in Chapter I.3 of this Handbook.
Some departments and faculty use Directed Study as a vehicle for linking academic work – when pursued in direct consultation with an instructor – to student internships or service learning experiences. Other departments have created internship and/or service learning courses to capture this sort of “high impact” learning experience, as a regular recurring course or as a variable “topics” course. (Of course, departments may set enrollment limitations on such courses - for example, restricted to declared majors, or to students who have completed appropriate coursework - and they may establish criteria for the types of learning experiences the courses provide.) Either approach is acceptable, and is left to the discretion of the department and faculty, provided that, as with any Directed Study course, the number of credits, projects undertaken, and procedure for and evaluation of the students’ work are the responsibility of the department and/or faculty member rather than the organization with which the student is working.
It is up to individual academic departments to determine who may oversee Directed Study courses within their Timetable subject listings. Some departments allow only faculty to supervise independent study; some allow long-term and short-term instructional academic staff and/or emeritus faculty/staff to take on this role. In all cases, Directed Study is taken on as a volunteer activity or as part of the overall teaching load; there is no expectation of increased remuneration for such activity.
Once the department has determined to allow a particular individual to supervise a Directed Study experience, the department should ensure that the individual has a valid instructor ID and that the student registers for the course using that instructor's ID. Doing so not only ensures that the student record accurately reflects with whom she or he studied, but also that the university has an accurate record of instructional activity and instructors at work within the department and college. It is the department's responsibility to maintain accurate lists of who is allowed to teach Directed Study; at a minimum, departments should remove inactive short term instructors from the lists of instructors teaching each semester.
In the event that an instructor overseeing an independent study is not a member of (or payrolled through) the department in which the student hopes to register, his or her ID may simply be entered into the list of instructors via usual Timetable procedures (i.e., adding a section using that instructor's ID, through which the student would register). New instructors must be entered into the Integrated Appointment Data System (IADS) before their names can be added to the course in the ISIS database. Departments should work with department and college-level human resource staff to initiate the process of adding instructors into IADS. If the individual is not on the payroll (as may be the case with emeritus faculty or staff), this may mean establishing a formal relationship with that person as a volunteer (see Section III.11, Policy on Use of Volunteers) or via a short-term zero-dollar or honorary appointment.
In recent years, a variety of “interest groups” have developed “action plans” that advise students that they may pursue internships or service opportunities when they participate in the groups’ political, social awareness, or other activities. These groups vary in size and scope: some resemble political action groups; they may or may not be related to university or academic activities; they may be connected to local, state-wide, or national organizations; and, finally, their goals may not be easily discerned by outsiders (instructors or students). All seek to harness students’ personal engagement on particular topics by creating opportunities for them to take action.
The Curriculum Committee and L&S hold no particular opinion regarding these activities, per se; however, we note that some of these entities encourage students to earn college credit for their work by persuading members of the faculty to supervise Directed Study experiences. Some of these groups offer to assist the faculty in designing internship projects, overseeing student performance, and even recommending grades. Each of these activities is the responsibility of the faculty member overseeing the student’s learning experience, and it is the responsibility of the faculty to ensure that credit awarded is linked to projects appropriate to a UW-Madison learning experience. Just as participation in any Directed Study is at the discretion of the faculty member, any instructor who is approached with a request to participate in one of these arrangements may decline the request; or, if she or he agrees to participate, the instructor should establish the criteria for student projects (which should, of course, emphasize the learning experience and not merely the act of volunteering), evaluation, and performance. Students who participate in these activities should be aware that these instructional responsibilities will not be delegated to others.
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