Teaching at Brown: From A to Z

This guide explains terms commonly used at Brown.1  We welcome your suggestions for additional items to include in this guide.  Please send them to us at Sheridan_Center@brown.edu

You may also wish to explore the pages Campus Support for Teaching and Academic Support for Students.  

ABC/NC: The official grading system at Brown. Note that there are no pluses or minuses (i.e., no A-, no B+). There are also no D's or F's. If students fail a course, they get NC, which means that the course simply does not count and will not show up on their official record.   Learn more about Brown’s grading system. 

Academic Advising: Brown offers an array of undergraduate advising opportunities.  Each incoming first-year student is assigned a First Year Advisor, who is a faculty member or administrator, and a Meiklejohn student peer advisor.  Some incoming students may elect to take a course with their First Year Advisor as part of the Curricular Advising Program (CAP). Others with interests in community service may choose to participate in the University-Community Academic Advising Program (UCAAP).  Sophomores may elect to stay with their First Year Advisor, select a new faculty member to serve as their Sophomore Advisor or have the Office of the Dean of the College help them find a Sophomore Advisor.  They are also encouraged to consult any of the Randall Advisors, faculty members from a variety of disciplines who are available to meet individually with sophomores.  Upon declaring a concentration toward the end of the fourth semester, students primarily rely on their Concentration Advisor.  Learn more about advising at Brown.  

Academic Calendar: Includes key dates for the fall and spring terms, as well as various registration deadlines.   

Academic Code: Governs student conduct with regard to plagiarism, cheating, and similar violations of the norms of classroom conduct.  Learn about Brown’s Academic Code for undergraduates, read tips on plagiarism prevention and detection, and view a step-by-step guide about how to proceed if you have detected a code violation.  Learn about Brown’s Academic Code for graduate students.

Academic Services Gateway: centralized access to technology services such as Canvas, wikis, bulk-email, iclickers, or iTunesU@Brown. 

Academic Standing: Brown undergraduate students are expected to complete four courses each semester, for a total of 32 courses over 4 years, and, with a few exceptions, must satisfactorily complete a minimum of 30 courses in 8 semesters.  In order to remain in good academic standing in progress towards a degree, a student will ordinarily pass 8 courses in any two consecutive semesters. Academic progress rules do allow students to pass 3 courses in a semester once every two years.   See a chart showing the number of courses students must pass each semester in order to stay in good academic standing.

Add/Drop: During the first two weeks of the semester (also known as Shopping Period), students frequently add and drop classes using Brown’s electronic registration system, Banner.  Up until the end of the second week of the semester, students may add classes without a fee. After that, courses must be added using a course change form available in the Registrar’s Office (J. Walter Wilson Hall, 3rd floor), and a $15 fee is charged for each course added.   Courses may be dropped at any time before the last day of classes. Dropped courses are not recorded on the permanent record (transcript), but courses dropped after the second week of the semester will be recorded on the internal academic record for use within the University.  Learn more about adding/dropping courses.   View current add/drop deadlines.

Audit:  Students who audit attend classes and, if the instructor requires it, also complete assignments. They do not get course credit but the AUD does show up on their official record. Auditors should ask the instructor for permission to use this option. Instructors are not obligated to allow auditors to in their classes.  Students may switch a course from Audit to Credit or Credit to Audit until mid-semester.  

BannerBrown’s electronic registration system. Students use Banner to search the course catalogue, register for courses and drop them online; class lists are updated as students add and drop classes. Only faculty members can give electronic 'overrides' to register students once the section is full.  View video tutorials on using Banner.

Book Orders: Books for courses can be ordered through the Brown Bookstore.

Brown Curriculum: aka the Open Curriculum or "New Curriculum", even though it is over 30 years old.  Brown's undergraduate program (the College) is well known for having one of the most open and flexible curricula in the United States. Students currently have NO requirements other than those necessary for their major field of study or concentration. In the interest of promoting a broad-based, liberal arts education, American universities and colleges typically require undergraduates to take a certain number of courses in a range of fields covering the humanities, social sciences, sciences and math, and foreign languages.   Learn more about the Brown Curriculum.

Brown EARS (Electronic Audio Reserve Service): Reserve audio files electronically for your course. 

Brown-RISD Dual Degree: A program offering students the opportunity to complete a Bachelor of Arts (A.B.) from Brown and a Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) degree from RISD over a five-year period.  Learn more about this program.   

Canvas: The electronic course management system used at Brown.  You can use Canvas to create a course website where students can access course information and materials, submit assignments, participate in online discussions, take online quizzes, etc.  To request a Canvas site, use the Academic Services Gateway described above. 

Classroom Assignments: Available online through the Banner electronic registration system or on the website of the Registrar’s Office.   The website Classrooms@Brown lists recently renovated lecture halls, seminar rooms and classrooms across campus and describes available technology. 

College Curriculum Council (CCC): Chaired by the Dean of the College, the CCC is a body of faculty, students, and administrators charged with regularly reviewing and vetting undergraduate curricular offerings at Brown to ensure quality and consistency. All new courses must be approved by the department and the CCC.  Learn more about proposing new courses.

Combined Degrees: Whereas most Brown students earn a B.A. or Sc.B., some choose to pursue a combined A.B./Sc.B., concurrent Baccalaureate/Master's degree or 5th Year Master's program.  Learn more about Combined Degrees.

ConcentrationAn undergraduate student's major field of study (e.g. French Studies, History, Engineering, Middle East Studies, Biology, Math, etc.).  Some students choose to have two concentrations.  All students must request, in writing, admission to a concentration program no later than the middle of their fourth semester, before pre-registering for semester five (usually spring semester of sophomore year).  Most concentrations require students to complete at least nine courses in the department. Since Brown students typically take 36 courses during their four years here, that leaves them with a great deal of freedom and choice as they design their program of study.   Explore the FOCAL POINT site listing concentrations at Brown.

Copyright & Fair Use: Learn about Brown’s policy on copyright and fair use.  

Course Announcement Bulletin (CAB): Contains course listings for a given academic year, as well as requirements for all undergraduate concentrations.  Originally available only in hard copy and distributed across campus, the CAB is now available only online on the homepage of the Registrar’s Office website

Course Packs: Graphic Services can make course packs available for sale to your students (though some faculty prefer to use local copy shops). 

Course Performance Report (CPR): A form where instructors can write out a narrative evaluation of a student's work in their course.  Students will frequently ask instructors to complete the CPR if they are using the S/NC option for the course, but some students may just like to have this document on file for every course that they take. Any student regularly enrolled in a course may request a CPR and, at the instructor's discretion, receive one.  Instructors of mandatory S/NC courses are obliged to honor such requests.  For all other courses, instructors may decline to submit such a form if they believe they have inadequate information to do so.  Students must submit CPR requests to their course instructors by the last day of classes.  Learn more about CPRs.

Course Preview Pages: Brown has an online Course Preview Page Directory, which enables students to “shop” courses virtually and may help decrease some of the excessive foot traffic many instructors experience during Shopping Period.   To create a Course Preview page, use the Academic Services Gateway described above. 

Course Reserves: The library offers both online and physical course reserves

Credit(s): Each Brown course is worth 1 credit (with the exception of music lessons, which can count for a half credit).  Students need 30 credits to graduate with a B.A. (bachelor in arts) or Sc.B (bachelor in science), the standard college undergraduate degree. More credits are required for students pursuing combined degrees

Critical Review: Produced and published online by a Brown student organization, The Critical Review contains reviews of undergraduate courses, based on responses from students and instructors to questionnaires.  Participation by instructors is voluntary. Many students use the Critical Review to help them select courses, so it can be worthwhile to participate.

Curricular Advising Program (CAP): This advising program for first-year students allows them to enroll in a course taught by a faculty member who is also their academic advisor for the fall or spring term.   Students register their interest in a CAP course the summer before they enroll; notification of a student’s assignment to a CAP course is e-mailed to them prior to their arrival at Brown.  Learn more about CAP.  

Degree Requirements: Before graduating, Brown undergraduates are required to (1) demonstrate competence in writing, (2) successfully complete at least 30 courses, (3) successfully complete a concentration, and (4) fulfill the enrollment requirement of eight semesters of full-time enrollment.  Learn more about degree requirements.

Faculty Advising Fellows: Experienced academic advisors who are interested in undergraduate students' lives both in and outside the classroom, Faculty Advising Fellows host meals on campus that bring faculty and students together for lively discussion. Learn more about Faculty Advising Fellows. 

Fifth CourseBrown undergraduates typically take four courses each semester. Taking five courses in one semester is considered an 'overload' and students who do this frequently take the 'fifth course' (the least important one for their academic goals) S/NC. If a student tells you that your course is her "fifth class", he or she may do only what is necessary to pass the course.

Final Exam Period: An 8-9 day period at the end of the semester, consisting of two three-hour blocks per day and used exclusively for final examinations for courses for which such an examination is scheduled. The Registrar’s Office assigns exam groups for each course (which are listed in Banner and the Course Announcement Bulletin), as well as room assignments (which are posted on the Registrar’s website by mid semester). 

First Year Seminars (FYS): These limited enrollment seminars provide first-year students with an introduction to a discipline in a small-group setting.  See a list of current FYS offerings.

Group Independent Study Projects (GISP): Cooperative ventures in which students and faculty develop credit-bearing courses that are not a regular part of the Brown curriculum.  Participating students bear major responsibility for researching the course topic, constructing a syllabus, and planning and conducting the academic coursework.  Each GISP is sponsored by a Brown faculty member who is prepared to assess the proposed study, to provide advice during the semester, and to be responsible for the evaluation of each student's work.  Learn more about GISPs.

Incomplete: In exceptional circumstances, students may request an instructor's permission to leave a course incomplete.  In such cases, a grade of 'I' (Incomplete) will be assigned provided that the student has filed a request for extension of time to complete the work of the course and the instructor has consented to such a request.  Learn more about Incompletes. 

Independent Study Projects (ISP): Allow individual students to initiate, design, and execute a credit-bearing course with the help of a faculty advisor.  The topic of an ISP is generally not offered in the established Brown curriculum.  A student is responsible for designing, implementing, and carrying out the coursework him- or herself.  Learn more about ISPs.

Instructional Technology Group (ITG): Supports the use of technology in teaching and has instructional designers who can provide individual assistance to faculty.  Learn more about ITG.

Learning Disabilities: Student who have been diagnosed with learning disabilities and request extra time or special conditions for exams, papers, etc. should present documentation from the Office of the Dean of the College. You should not make special arrangements for students with learning disabilities without official verification.  If you have questions or concerns about a student, contact Brown’s Student and Employee Accessibility Services (SEAS).   

Leave of Absence: About 15% of Brown undergraduates take a leave at some point in their academic careers.  Students must meet with an academic dean to file for a personal leave.  Learn more about leaves of absence for undergraduates.   Learn about leaves of absence for graduate students.

Limited Enrollment Courses: Many courses have enrollment limits and/or other registration parameters (e.g. concentrators only; freshmen only). Students may register online for limited enrollment course only if they meet all of the parameters and space is available in the course. After classes begin, priority is given to students who have pre-registered for the course, who meet the posted admission criteria, and who attend the first class meeting. Students who have permission for a limited enrollment course must attend the first three class meetings (or the first two meetings of once-weekly seminars); otherwise, they forfeit any claim to a place in that course.  If the enrollment limit has been reached, the instructor may grant a registration override (by entering the student’s Banner ID into Banner’s override function online), which will allow the student to register.  Once the override is applied, the student must still register for the course online by the registration deadlines.  Learn more about limited enrollment courses.

Mandatory S/NC: An instructor has restricted the grade option to Satisfactory/No Credit, and no letter grades are given.  This is most often done for courses designed to draw students whose background preparation or personal skills might make study of the material especially difficult. It may also reflect the difficulty in certain areas of making fine numerical distinctions in performance, for example, in Visual Art, creative writing, and music or theater performance courses.

Meiklejohn (Advisors): Undergraduate students, typically juniors or seniors, who work with faculty members to form advising teams for first-year students.  Students may refer to "my Meiklejohn" (meaning their student advisor), they may tell you that they are Meiklejohns, or they may ask you to write a recommendation if they are applying to serve as Meiklejohn advisors. 

Mocha: Created by Brown undergraduates to assist in planning course schedules, Mocha is an online tool students use to manage their course schedules, especially during shopping period.

Online Course Reserves Access (OCRA): Use OCRA to place books and other physical media on reserve, and to create electronic reserves. Links to reserves in all formats will be added to Canvas

Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME): Special 8-year program whereby Brown admits first-year students to the College and to the Medical School.  PLME students complete an undergraduate degree (in virtually any concentration) and then stay at Brown for the four years of their medical education.  Learn more about the PLME Program.

Randall Advisors: Ten faculty members charged with exclusively advising sophomores.  Learn more about Randall Advisors

Reading Period: While some classes meet regularly until the start of final exams, other classes do not meet during this several-day period before the start of finals.  Observing Reading Period is optional and at the discretion of the instructor.  Check with your department to see what the norm is.  Check the Academic Calendar to see when Reading Period falls in a given semester.

Requirement/Required Course:  The courses that students must take in order to complete their program of study or concentration at Brown. 

Resumed Undergraduate Education (RUE): Each year, a small number of students who have been out of high school for six years or more but who have not yet completed a four-year bachelor’s degree are admitted to Brown through the RUE Program.  Learn more about the RUE Program.

RISD (pronounced Rizdee; Rhode Island School of Design): A very well known school of arts and architecture located nearby Brown.  RISD students can take Brown courses and vice versa, but the academic year calendars for the two schools do not match exactly.  RISD students taking your courses are expected to respect the Brown course calendar.  Learn more about RISD. 

Shopping (Period)The process of students visiting several classes during the first weeks of the semester in order to find the very best ones for them.   At Brown, shopping has been a sacrosanct ritual for years; it typically lasts at least two weeks and, from the instructor's point of view, means dealing with a lot of movement and instability.  Class lists change constantly (you may wish to take attendance regularly), and students may have difficulty keeping up with assignments.  Learn how some Brown faculty cope with the challenges of Shopping Period.   

S/NC (Satisfactory/No Credit): Instead of taking a course for a grade (ABC/NC), a student may choose the S/NC or Pass/Fail option when they register for a course.  There have actually been Brown students who chose to take all of their courses S/NC, but it is far more common for students to use this option in those subjects they find most challenging or for those that they deem less important to their primary fields of study.  A small number of courses are designated by their instructors as mandatory S/NC.  View guidelines to help students choose their grade option.

University-Community Academic Advising Program (UCAAP): Brings together small groups of first-year students and academic advisors who want their academic work to connect with service in the community.  During orientation, UCAAP students and advisors participate in the Institute on Service and Community.  During the semester, UCAAP students meet monthly for lectures, conferences, dinners, and site visits to learn about service opportunities and to discuss dimensions of community work.  Limited to 50 students.  

University Courses: Courses that address major themes and problems requiring a different perspective than generally governs departmental offerings. They provide students with the opportunity to integrate their understanding of major areas of learning and explore relationships among diverse forms of human experience, or to relate one or more disciplines to a broader context, or to focus on large and fundamental problems that need to be approached through several disciplines or by ways not found in existing disciplines.

Vagabond:  Students who sit in on courses with the instructor’s permission but without officially registering, either for credit or as auditors, are called vagabonds.  "Vagabonding" is the process of sitting in without official status.  Learn more about vagabonding.

Writing Fellows: Undergraduates trained in composition and pedagogy who are assigned to a faculty member to work with students on their writing in a particular course.  Requests for Writing Fellows must be submitted the semester before a course is offered.  Learn more about Writing Fellows.

Writing Requirement: The Brown undergraduate curriculum has only one general education requirement: that all students demonstrate the ability to write well.  To meet this requirement, students must demonstrate that they have worked on their writing.   Students who do not meet the writing requirement during the stipulated terms receive a writing “check” in the comments section of their internal academic record. A student is not allowed to graduate with a writing check, which must be cleared through Brown’s Writing Center.   Learn more about the Writing Requirement.

Year Course: A year-long sequence of courses (for example, Basic Chinese) whose first semester grade is a temporary one. Neither course in the sequence may be taken independently without special written permission. The final grade submitted at the end of the second semester of course work is recorded as the final grade for both semesters.   If you are teaching a year course, it is helpful to indicate this in your syllabi for both semesters and to clarify how you will determine grades each semester. 

1.  The Sheridan Center wishes to thank Beth Bauer (Hispanic Studies) for allowing us to adapt and develop these materials from “An Insider’s Guide to Brown Terminology and Phenomena”, which she originally created in her capacity as Director of the Center for Language Studies for use at its annual orientation for foreign language teaching assistants and teaching associates.