Over the past few weeks, students have been flooding Bearings to check out next semester's course descriptions. While students spend hours brainstorming and charting their schedules, that time is dwarfed by the months of work professors dedicate to course creation and preparation.

"Preparing for a course, especially a new course, is time-intensive and may involve three or more hours of preparation for every hour taught," said Associate Professor of Earth and Oceanographic Science Rachel Beane.

In order to establish a new course or make substantial revisions to an existing one, academic departments must create a proposal that includes not only a course description, but a justification of the material and a prediction of the course's impact on the department.

These proposals are reviewed by the Curriculum Implementation Committee and the Curriculum and Educational Policy Committee before course recommendations are brought to a vote at a faculty meeting.

Course creation is a continuous process. Departments may submit proposals years to weeks ahead of the semester in which they wish to introduce a new class, as course topics are continually being inspired in a variety of ways.

Student research inspired Beane's seminar course Tectonics and Climate.

"The topic came from a research paper topic that students selected during a course last fall," she said. "The students and I found that there were more than enough interesting articles related to this topic to make it a full course."

Student requests prompted Associate Professor of History Dallas Denery's course Medieval, Renaissance & Reformation. After years of teaching medieval and early modern European history as two distinct 200-level courses, Denery was convinced by students to propose a 100-level introduction to the entire time period.

"My hope is that [the new course] will provide students with a background that will be useful in all sorts of courses across campus—in Professor Perkinson's art history courses and Professor Edsall and Kitch's English courses, for example," Denery said.

While Denery's course provides historical foundations for studies in other departments, the new course Bird Song, Human Song, taught by Professor of Music Robert Greenlee and Professor of Biology Nathaniel Wheelwright, looks to create an interdisciplinary bridge between the arts and natural sciences. The unusual course was inspired by equally unique circumstances.

"There were many sources of inspiration [for the class], but a couple of highlights were hearing an avian symphony while walking in a wilderness preserve in Oklahoma, and transcribing bird song into musical notation for Nat," said Greenlee.

Wheelwright views the class as an opportunity to expose students to behavioral ecology through a fresh perspective.

"One of my motivations for offering this course is to help emancipate students from their iPods and cell phones and open their eyes—or in this case, their ears and their souls—to the natural world around them," he said.

Biomathematics, created four years ago by Professor of Mathematics Mary Lou Zeeman, is another interdisciplinary course.

"Bowdoin hired me to be a catalyst between the biology and math departments," Zeeman said. "The goal in Biomathematics is to create students who are not afraid of walking the bridge between biology and math. It puts biologists and mathematicians in the same room studying the same material." Biomathematics, currently being taught, is placing economists and representatives of other departments among biologists and mathematicians.

Novelty in the math department is constrained by the demanding number of core calculus courses. Professor of mathematics William Barker explained that finding an appropriate textbook and narrowing down the scope of material are essential steps in creating any syllabus.

"In designing a new course you have to keep in mind that you only have a semester. There's a time constraint, so it's hard to develop material in a highly rigorous theoretical way—there's no time to do all of the nitty gritty proofs. We have to pick and choose what we can do," said Barker.

Barker also noted that teaching a new course can be as much of a learning experience for the professor as the students. After a sabbatical at Yale with geometrician Roger Howe, Barker returned determined to teach advanced geometry. In preparing geometry classes, Barker found that he had not previously studied some of the material he came across.

"Almost every time I teach classical geometry, I learn something new myself," he stated.

Professor of Government Paul Franco found that he was able to deepen his understanding of certain people and philosophies alongside students in his past advanced political theory seminars. This spring, Advanced Seminar in Political Theory will study the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

"[In an advanced seminar], you get to teach something you're interested in, that you can explore with the students. This is a wonderful way to develop my own understanding of [Rousseau]," stated Franco, who also acknowledged the risks associated with creating a new syllabus. "The first time you teach a course there's a bit of an experimental process. You've got to test run it. But there's an energy for the new material that compensates for imperfections in the syllabus."

Recently proposed courses are not the only source of new material on campus. In classes such as U.S. Foreign Policy, which deals with contemporary world events, the class topics and readings vary greatly from term to term. In the fall, Professor of Government Allen Springer's International Law changed substantially due to the release of a new edition of the course's casebook.

While the proposal process has ensured new courses for the spring, long-established courses continue to evolve in response to student needs and contemporary issues.

"The 'course-creating' process is happening all the time in every course," said Zeeman. "It doesn't have to be a new course for it to be changing."