I took notes during the forum on general education curriculum revision that we had on January 25th, and I thought I’d share them here, expanded a bit from my scribblings. These topics and concerns are not a complete reflection of all that we covered, but they might help give a sense of some of the topics raised. Participants were asked to focus on the Communities in Practice (CIP) component of the LAGER proposal for this forum.
Question: How does the Art and Science research affect our curriculum revision process? They recommend a program where students pursue an area of passion along with their major. We should ensure that:
- Students can find an area of passion to study here – are we big enough and flexible enough that we can do this?
- These areas of passion should not merely overlap or augment their major, but instead should be something different.
During the first year, students will need to be exposed to many possibilities for their general education “passion” experience in order to be able to find one they can embrace.
The current LAGER model seems to suggest that students would be locked into the communities in practice (CIP) model by sophomore year, although we intend that movement between CIPs be possible. This seems problematic to some
Calling the CIPs “communities” is problematic. A community suggests a living and working group, and within communities, there is often status, hierarchy of participation, and people who are deeply engaged and then some left on the margins. Within larger societies also, some communities have higher and lower status. We do not want students (or whole CIPs) to be marginalized. Will our small communities include marginalization or have imperfect participation?
The term “community” does not seem clear in meaning or intent. Perhaps a different name with fewer connotations would be better. LAGER is open to better names for all parts of the general education offerings.
Not all students will be able to find a passion or CIP within their first or second year. We should have an “undeclared” CIP. Perhaps it could be called the Explorers, seeking a topic or passion that ignites interest.
If we have something like the CIPs or passion groups, we need to reserve time and space for those groups to meet. This could include altering the schedule, such as reserving weekly times, or reserving whole days every month for groups to meet. Some of these meeting spaces could be digital/electronic. We can probably figure this part out later, once a model is in place.
Some felt that the three-year CIP model might be too restrictive. Many students change their majors several times during college or add minors as they have new experiences or as their interests shift. The ability to change between CIPs seems necessary. Participants saw value both in having a consistent, progressive multi-year CIP experience as envisioned in the LAGER proposal, but also allowing some students to be more nomadic, moving from one group to another from year to year. Making this nomadic model work, and ensuring that the goals and outcomes of the Gen Ed curriculum are met, could be challenging.
Question: How prepared are we to offer this kind of innovative, customized model? How would CIP participation fit into regular workloads for faculty? We can probably figure this part out later after we have a model nailed down.
Question: Could our CIPs be completely student driven, with students forming groups around certain issues, and faculty taking what students want to do and crafting an academic experience on the fly? This might allow us to get closer to the admonition to let students follow their passions, but it would also be potentially chaotic, challenging for faculty, and hard to assess.
Question: Could we separate the three SACS-required courses out of the CIPs rather than trying to tailor those courses to CIPs? This would allow students to take any qualifying course. This would still allow students to bring those topics and skills back to their CIP, but it would reduce the problems of scheduling many different required gen-ed courses and ensuring that they fit the themes of the CIPs. This allows students and CIPs more flexibility and reduces some of the design challenge for CIPs, but it would bring back the checklist model for Gen Ed that LAGER was trying to move away from.
Proposal: Have students take the three SACS courses as an exploration period during sophomore year, then do the CIP/passion group parts during junior/senior years. This gives them longer to find a passion and might make the CIP experience more intense and useful, but it means the overall CIP experience would potentially be shorter and less deep. It would make the implementation of the revised curriculum easier, though, because most of the SACS-required courses are already in place, while the CIP parts would be new and challenging.