Faculty attends retreat for new curriculum

On Friday Sept. 5, Professors and faculty met this past weekend for a curriculum retreat, to discuss the recently approved curriculum changes. These changes involve various new approaches, from interdisciplinary clusters to the possibility of more four-hour credit courses in various departments.

“The retreat was an attempt to first of all allow faculty to spend some concentrated time thinking about some of these issues,” said Duane Coltharp, associate vice president for academic affairs. “We have intelligent people with good ideas here and good things happened when they come together and share them with one another.”

For faculty, the retreat was a chance to generate ideas with one another, as a big focus of the new curriculum will be more interdisciplinary courses.

“Both the First-Year Experience and the interdisciplinary clusters really require faculty members to come together and do some networking, to find other faculty members who are interested in similar areas,” Coltharp said.

These clusters, alongside other aspects of the new curriculum including the new Core Capacities, and First Year Experience look to allow students to explore various disciplines and departments in a more cohesive manner.

“One of the differences between the clusters and the current common curriculum is that if it works the way we want it to there will be perhaps more coherence for a student’s experience, instead of taking a smattering of courses,” Coltharp said.

Although these changes will take mandatory effect for the incoming class of 2019, current students will be able to choose whether or not to get involved with the new curriculum. To Sean Connin, Director of the Collaborative for Learning and Teaching, this possibility for current students is something to be excited for.

“I expect that there will ultimately be interest for students that are currently enrolled,” Connin said. “It really is, in my opinion, developed into a very unique combination of changes that I think students who participate in this new curriculum will really have an advantage over their peers elsewhere.”

The new changes, involving new courses, must first be approved by the University Curriculum Council. While many professors are excited by the prospect of these new changes and ability for new courses, many are careful about making sure that students get the best possible outcome.

“The trick here is that we have to assign our classes to, if we want, a core capacity and an approach,” said Katsuo Nishikawa, professor of political science. “The big thing we as faculty have to show restraint in is not trying to pigeonhole something that doesn’t fit in a capacity or core approaches; what is best for my students””that they can check a box and not really get that capacity or approach or rather that they actually take a class that is true to the capacity.”

Alongside the changes in course type, the option for more four hour credit courses is being discussed.

“Some departments will choose to convert some of their three hour courses to four hour or make new four hour courses,” said Coltharp. “But at this point we can’t really say how many courses that will be, we are still waiting to see.”

The option of four-hour courses will decrease the time for many majors, should departments adopt the change.

“You might be able to reduce the amount of courses that you need to take for your major,” Nishikawa said. “That opens up more time for other things, like exploring other departments and getting as multidisciplinary as possible; we need to develop students who are versatile and that they themselves can change to an adapting environment.”

With an emphasis on interdisciplinary courses and clusters, students will be able to take a variety of courses outside their major, which many members of faculty see as a great chance for students to increase their skills for the future.

“500 or 800 years ago people were just academics, they didn’t define themselves as one thing or another; as society progressed people gradually put walls,” Nishikawa said. “However, those walls are as artificial as anything, they are just socially constructed, we can decide if we keep them or not””the world doesn’t have those walls, problems don’t have those walls.”

As the academic year goes on, faculty will continue to work on his process of change, preparing it for the fall of 2015.

“Change can be scary but I think ultimately people are intrigued by what the future holds,” Coltharp said. “It’s a challenge to implement this curriculum but I think a lot of people are excited to do the work that it will take.”