Posted by: Gillian | January 2, 2008

Vocabulary in education

I love this time of year for the predictability of some of the questions that individuals ask as they try and make sense of university or college prospectuses and catalogues.  Do they have a right to be confused: yes.  Is it right that they are confused: no.  Universities and colleges could and should be able to do more to help people through the maze of ‘same words, different meanings’ but, of course, there is the great ‘not invented here syndrome’ that makes it difficult to have one vocabulary for all.

There is an eduglossary on  This is being added to as various projects come to their separate conclusions but additions there – or debates here – are always welcome.  Just to start the ball rolling, I use

  • the English programme to mean a complete, planned educational experience that usually leads to a qualification such as a degree
  • the US program for computing.

I also need to use the following terms in a variety of ways:

  • course to mean either a subset of a programme or a whole programme depending on the institution that is offering it e.g.
    • “I’m on the Engineering course at Southampton Uni” means studying for that Bachelors degree
    • “I’m taking three courses this semester” at Excelsior College, NY, means three subjects and their assessments counting towards a degree
  • module as a subset of a programme (this may be the same size as a ‘course’ using the Excelsior definition given above or a small number of modules may be subsets of a course which is a subset of a programme, rather like a trilogy in book terms)
  • unit as a subset of a module (like a chapter in a book) or, occasionally, a unit is a synonym for a course-sized module.

After that explanation, non-educationalists surely have the right to be confused!  Please send in your examples.

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