Propose a New Thinking Matters Course

New Courses

Thinking Matters courses are welcome on a rolling basis. Please contact Faculty Director Dan Edelstein for further information

Thinking Matters Course Structure

Thinking Matters courses are for first year students only and fulfill the Thinking Matters and WAYS requirements. 

  • 4 units
  • Offered in autumn, winter, or spring quarter
  • 2 50-minute lectures led by faculty, size of lecture ranges from 40-100 students
  • 2 50-minute discussion sections led by fellows holding doctorates chosen in a national search, size of discussion section ranges from 10-15 students

Preliminary Proposal

  1. Name(s) of the teaching faculty (Cross-disciplinary partnerships are encouraged.)
  2. Description that focuses on the questions investigated in the course.
  3. Explanation of why the course is appropriate for liberal education in students’ first-year at Stanford.

Send this information to the Thinking Matters Governance Board c/o Thinking Matters to Neema Oliver (

Proposal Guidelines

After review of the preliminary proposal, the Governance Board may request a formal course proposal. When writing the full proposal, please keep in mind that all courses are team-taught with 2-4 Thinking Matters Fellows selected in a national search.

Submit a brief document (2-3 pages) by the date requested that includes:

  1. Course title.
  2. Course description addressed to high-school seniors.
  3. Fundamental questions investigated by the course. (For examples of items 1-3 above, see the Thinking Matters Catalog.) 
  4. Annotated list of texts and topics (not a full syllabus) elucidating why they were selected with attention to principles of inclusive course design. For information on inclusive course design see
  5. Presentation of sample active learning strategies that will be effective for teaching this material to first-year students with widely diverse high-school preparation. Please consider the relationship between your lectures and the fellow-led sections and tutorials as it might pertain to your examples.
  6. Plans for assessing student learning in collaboration with your teaching team. 
  7. Discussion of how the course will meet the learning goals* of the requirement. (See below.)
  8. The “Ways of Thinking Ways of Doing” category or categories that the course is expected to satisfy and a very brief note explaining why it should qualify for certification.

NOTE: If your course is approved for the Thinking Matters requirement, we will submit it for WAYs certification; all THINK courses must be certified for at least one way. This is a separate process conducted by the Breadth Governance Board. See guidelines and examples on the WTWD webpage: 

Thinking Matters Goals

A. General goals

Students in Thinking Matters courses will:

  • Develop a sense for what a genuine question or problem is, and what it means to think about an important idea with the sort of disciplined, creative, and critical reasoning characteristic of a university-trained mind. 
  • Develop broad, transportable skills that are required in (almost) any branch of university work, including: analytical, expository writing; careful, critical reading; analytical and critical reasoning; and capacities for effective oral communication including active listening and responsive discussion.

B. Course-specific goals and objectives

What do you want students to be able to do after taking this course? What do you expect them to learn? How will the course be structured so that students will achieve the specific learning objectives? See VPTL resources on course goals:

Indicate which of the following skills/capacities that your course will develop:

  • close reading of texts;
  • cultural interpretation;
  • historical thinking;
  • evaluative reasoning and judgment (e.g. ethical reasoning, aesthetic judgment);
  • social analysis;
  • meta-level assessment of the sources and validity of cognition (and symbolic systems for cognition) considered as such;
  • scientific analysis, including the ability to formulate hypotheses and to develop experimental means to test them;
  • assessment of the probative value of evidence;
  • statistical reasoning;
  • quantitative reasoning and
  • other goals specific to your course.

Course Proposal Review and Approval Process

The Thinking Matters Governance Board reviews course proposals at its bi-monthly meetings throughout the year, especially during autumn and winter quarters. Prospective Thinking Matters faculty are invited to one of these meeting to discuss their plans with Board members, and follow these discussions.

Criteria for Evaluation of New Course Proposals 

  1. Thinking Matters courses must be taught by members of the Academic Council Faculty. Cross-disciplinary teaching partnerships are especially welcome. 
  2. The Governance Board seeks evidence of inclusive course design and pedagogical approaches that will be effective in teaching the proposed course material to first-year students with diverse high-school preparation in their transition to college-level learning.  
  3. Courses should focus on fundamental questions and complex problems approached from multiple perspectives; they should emphasize development of analytical and critical reasoning in a student-centered, liberal education learning environment.

Principles for Curricular Decisions 

  1. In developing the Thinking Matters annual curriculum, the Board will approve an optimal number of courses so that each course can support a lecture class format (minimum of ~40 students). [Frosh Seminars provide opportunities for faculty who prefer to teach first-year students in a small-class setting.]
  2. Thinking Matters faculty should demonstrate willingness to work on a teaching team and collaborate with post-doctoral fellows who will lead section discussions and hold individual student tutorials for their lecture courses. Because each post-doctoral fellow will teach on three different course teams each year, the search and hiring process for post-doctoral fellows will require flexibility from faculty who participate in the selection.
  3. It is the Board’s responsibility to ensure that the Thinking Matters curriculum reflects the full scope of faculty interests across the university so freshmen have opportunities to choose their required course from a wide range of diverse topics and fields.
  4. The Governance Board will actively seek to avoid disciplinary, thematic and/or methodological duplication among the courses offered in the annual and quarterly curriculum.