Clarification and further development of Jim Hood’s ideas

[From Jim Hood]

I wanted to put my suggestion from yesterday’s meeting in writing along with some other thoughts.  Please feel free to share these ideas on the Moon Room.

Content suggestions

Since a number of faculty are concerned that we be more specific about content before approving the proposed gen ed curriculum, here are some brief thoughts about how we could do that.  Like some others, I’m concerned that distributing the re-envisioned Critical Perspectives into modules across the gen ed would be complicated and difficult to manage, so my suggestions here focus on concentrating critical perspectives in particular curricular locations, essentially blending some of our current breadth with current critical perspectives.

1.  Global and Diverse Perspectives (Gateway) course

Courses satisfying this requirement would focus on non-Western cultures (which seems vital as a gateway experience for our students) and have to include historical perspective (change over time, causality) as a key component.  I’m suggesting this not be primarily a writing course, but that it must also include instruction in research-based writing as a component.  Students can learn much by doing, and by doing historically-informed, research-based writing, they will learn a lot about the culture or history of a non-Western locale.

2.  Nature: Processes and Properties of the Natural World Breadth course

In the context of teaching the processes and properties of the natural world, this course must have a substantial focus on the environmental crisis we face as a planet, identifying key environmental problems and potential solutions.

3.  Society: Social Interaction and Behavior Breadth course

Courses satisfying this requirement must include as a key component analysis of how social, political, and/or cultural structures create and sustain systemic forms of oppression.

4.  Humanity: Human Experiences in Artistic and Cultural Expression Breadth course

Courses satisfying this requirement should include as a key component analysis of the contributions of traditionally under-represented groups to artistic, literary, religious, and/or other forms of cultural expression.

Coalitions (currently CiPs)

I would suggest a somewhat looser structure than implied in the term “chartered communities,” at least initially (following Naadiya Hasan’s suggestion in a faculty forum).  I imagine the credit hours and components being the same as currently proposed, but I like the term “Coalitions” because it suggests a more fluid structure that would allow faculty to collaborate with students in cross-disciplinary fashion around shorter- as well as longer-term issues, similar to the idea behind our current PPSE minors.  I also like the word “coalition” because it has a (now obsolete, from the 17th century) meaning of “Shared growth or development; the action or fact of nurturing or sustaining one another” (OED).

Administrative management of curricular components
A number of faculty, like I, have been concerned about how to manage the proposed curriculum without adequate resources.  As I don’t foresee significant resources forthcoming, I suggest a modest arrangement for managing some of the curricular components.

1.  Gateway Seminar

Administered in a manner similar to current FYS/FYE.

2.  Gateway Communication

Administered by the current Writing Program director in the same manner as is current.

3.  Gateway Global Engagement

Administered by the Foreign Languages department

4.  Breadth courses and Global and Diverse Perspectives

Appoint faculty members as the directors of each of these components, for which they would receive one course release per year.  Report to VPAA/Academic Dean.

5. Coalitions (currently called CiPs)

Each coalition should be managed by a faculty member, for which they would receive one course release per year.  Report to VPAA/Academic Dean.

I hope these suggestions can help move us along in terms of clarifying content locations and simplifying things a bit.


  1. Richard Schilhavy

    The phrase “…similar to the idea behind our current PPSE minors” summarizes my struggle with the current conception of CiPs (or Coalitions, I like the shorter name). After seeing what is possible with the PPSE Every Campus a Refugee (ECAR) Minor, I am concerned we are adding a new, required curricular structure that is not substantially distinct from optional curricular structure that already exists.

    1. Would ECAR have both a PPSE minor as well as a CiP/Coalition?
    2. If a student completes the ECAR minor would that student also complete (or mostly complete) the related CiP/Coalition, or vice-versa?

    If the answer is yes to both of these questions, then it would seem that one of the two is unnecessary.

    • Hi, Richard –
      I agree that this is redundant, but I think the redundancy is temporary and structural rather than a long-term problem.

      I think that some faculty and programs have been trying to create spaces like the Coalitions/CIPs for many years. I think the PPSE minors, the Cape Fear program, some of the interdisciplinary minors, and many of the Bonner and other service learning programs are generally parallel, and I think some majors (e.g. SFS, JPS CJS) already teach this way.

      I think some of those programs have become minors precisely because we require a minor for graduation, and that lets students engage with those programs in a way that furthers their progress toward graduation or at least “counts” for something. I suspect that, if we switch to something like LAGER 4.5 with required Coalitions and without required minors, that after a transitional period, new ideas like this would likely become Coalitions rather than minors, and that many or even most existing experiential minors would gradually shift towards Coalitions.

      • Richard Schilhavy

        I am skeptical from other initiatives that the redundancy would be temporary without a clear assessment plan and transition timeline, and some agreement on what elements would indeed be redundant. JanTerm was piloted but never assessed for the first two years causing the pilot to extend further. We have had multiple initiatives to introduce hybrid and online teaching into the curriculum, but they seem to fizzle after the initial push. I unaware of any direct assessment of those course formats. And, if I recall correctly, you mentioned that even Fast Tracks were originally a pilot during the last faculty meeting, which was a shock.

  2. For what it’s worth, Jim’s interpretation of the “nature” class would effectively kill astronomy at Guilford.

    • Unless it became a really awesome Coalition…

      • Hm. Tricky. That would require some outside the box thinking, which I like. Currently, the vast majority of students who take Astronomy do so because it fulfills the science requirement. Although I think one could bend Astronomy courses to address issues around environmental concerns (light pollution?) I think it would be a bit of a stretch, and probably end up satisfying neither goal. So if a course that was really just simply “what’s out there in space and how does it all work?” wouldn’t fit the “nature” description, then pretty much only the physics majors and a couple other students (we used to have an astronomy minor, aimed at people who wanted to be backyard astronomers — perhaps we could bring that back) would take them. Our department balances out having small classes in the major by having large gen ed classes. Even if we made an astronomy-based coalition, the number of people in that coalition would probably be smaller than the ones we serve now. Maybe? Anyway, needs further thought.

        • I think Don’s point is very important. I believe there needs to be space in the curriculum in which learning is released from immediate application. I would hope that the narrative behind the Breadth requirements would be the pursuit of wonder, curiosity, discovery, and awe. While these experiences of intellectual growth might lead us, ultimately, to research and undertakings that solve problems in the world, in their beginning stages, they should have every right to be as simple as the question Don poses about astronomy: “what’s out there in space and how does it all work?” I think the students deserve the space in their undergraduate education to do this kind of learning.

          • Yes, please!! I want that for our gen ed! Thanks, Karen, for articulating my nagging thoughts so much more cogently.

    • Friend speaks my mind. I also don’t know what constitutes “substantial,” and who gets to determine that … for any field. I trust my colleagues to understand and teach in their disciplines and expect the same in return. “Must include” versus “should include” is difficult for me. I learned everything I know about space from Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. I”d rather our students learn from Thom and Don!

  3. Thanks, Jim, for these comments and clarifications! I especially appreciate imagining how the various curricular components would get administered. But it does seem like a lot of labor will be involved just in managing a curriculum with this many moving parts…not counting the number of course releases that will surely be required to create and update components/faculty development. I’m all for the challenge, but we must be proactive and ensure we do have *more* administrative resources dedicated to gearing up and sustaining the curriculum shift.

  4. Two quick comments following yesterday’s meeting.

    1. I think we will regret it if we do not not move forward with a revised gen ed curriculum soon. Four years of research, reflection, creativity, and extended discussion have brought us to an informed decision-making moment. There are legitimate concerns and lingering questions but I do not think the process has been rushed or that we are risking changing the fundamental nature of the college. I also think that Jim Hood’s recent Moon Room post provides us with an additional dose of practical wisdom that makes the path forward seem more secure to my way of thinking.

    2. The PPS initiative was launched a decade ago with a charge to draw it, PPS, into the life of the college more fully, particularly, although not exclusively, through the gen ed curriculum. We have tried to facilitate this using the three tiered PPS curriculum developed by the College which allows for a continuum of engagement from theory to application, textual engagement to research, passion to action. In a general sense, the current shape of the gen ed revision is likely to provide more opportunities for faculty and students engage PPS going forward. For this reason, among others, I support moving forward with the new gen ed curriculum as soon as possible.

  5. The problem I see with the content suggested here for the Humanity breadth is that it excludes any introduction to music literacy — the way we notate, read and compose music in the Academy. While we could certainly offer some courses in non-western or under-represented or oppressed populations in the Arts (and many of our 1-credit performance courses open to all students expose students to global literature), a course like Music Theory, a gateway to music literacy and to the major/minor, is not unlike learning math or a foreign language and is, at least at the present time, the universal language for classical music.

    I absolutely support a global focus to the gen ed curriculum, but personally, I’d like to see the 3 Breadth courses left open. I think Nature, Society and Humanity is specific enough.

    • Wendy, LAGER struggled with the option that Jim presents here related to merging the CP outcomes with the breadth requirements. Because we received specific feedback in opposition to this merging, the overlap between these two categories was minimized. Wrestling with the tension between learning apart from “immediate application” (Karen’s comment above) in breadth courses and valuing the CPs in a way that brings this to a course-level outcome represented a difficult nut to crack. The compromise in version 4.5 was the closest that LAGER felt we could get to a consensus position in balancing these two competing goods.

  6. I’d like to add that “historically-informed, research based making” teaches students about the history and life of a non-western culture. In my design courses students do close reading of text and historical research to draw garments worn by the characters in the text. The given circumstances of the characters (what are the daily life rituals, the home, the politics, the economics, religion, society etc.) are all part of the research. If we seek to broaden the way students learn beyond writing the Arts should be included in the discussion about how Critical Perspectives are taught.

  7. I write here again because I don’t have another way to voice my concerns while I’m on sabbatical. So I am grateful to Dave for creating this space and for those of you who care to read.

    There are issues I believe strongly in, just as my colleagues also feel passionately about areas that should be represented in our new curriculum. I, and many others, were willing to forgo pushing for these issues or areas to be included, because we believed they would be due to the flexibility of the structure. In retrospect, and now that the lay of the land has changed, I am sad and not so excited about the “new” curriculum.

    We in the arts believe that arts can uplift and challenge students to see or know the world and society in a way different from discussion, books, and power points. We think we have a unique perspective to offer, one that can potentially heal and touch many deeply. We believe we can affect change in society. Additionally, there are others on campus that see our students as needing to understand wellness. While we can put this in many formats, we are not asking our students to move or challenging them to directly address their physical, financial, or emotional well-being. Being a young person in this world requires the ability to care for self and understand what that looks like from multiple perspectives.

    Without these two components (arts and wellness), we are just doing the same pedagogical methodologies-sitting, reading, writing, and talking. I know I am generalizing, but I’m doing it to show that we have not implemented any other way of learning outside of the “norm.” I fear we will not service our students who don’t succeed through the normal pedagogical academic approach. I realize I am criticizing the Western academic approach to education, but I still respect it and see the necessity. But as someone who received all of my training and education via arts schools, I am not moved by that approach as a learner. Surely I can’t be the only one…
    We are missing the creative elements and once again dismissing the physical body in order to teach only the mind. And while I am grateful for the collaborative/community aspect, it’s not enough. I was excited about putting together something brand new that looked and felt different with inclusive of multiple ways of knowing and learning. Now, I’m feeling disappointment and a lack of excitement about having a new approach.

    Lastly-we should have had a non-tenured/junior faculty “safe” forum or space for those who felt strongly but still aren’t quite confident about speaking in faculty meetings against strong voices. I wonder what they think about this whole experience?

    • Richard Schilhavy

      Kami, Good suggestions on the safe forum. Julie recommended an anonymous survey during the faculty meeting, which although impersonal, is a safe space to express what may be unpopular views.

    • Also-yes to Wendy and Robin and this conversation. I posted before I was able to read their comments because my internet has been out for two hours and I had already submitted my response.

  8. The comments of Karen, Don, Bryan, Wendy, and Robin all have me thinking. In our discussion of the general education reform we seem to be drifting away from a curriculum that focuses on general exploration of disciplines, subjects, and skills. Instead, of a general education, we seem to be moving toward a specific education, one that appears to prescribe particular ways of exploring whole disciplines, topics, skills and concepts. In so doing, we may risk discouraging students who would otherwise value the opportunity to explore fields and topics in an open “pursuit of wonder, curiosity, discovery, and awe,” as Karen puts it well. Further, such prescriptions may leave sidelined much of the expertise and experience of our faculty, whose fields of study do not accord with specific prescribed themes. This may speak to the virtue of leaving the categories of “nature,” “society,” and “humanity” broadly defined so that more of us can contribute meaningfully to our students’ understanding of them.

  9. Thanks to all for these thoughtful comments and the ongoing discussion. It is tricky balancing the number of courses with our sense of important skills and content. For the Global and Diverse Perspectives Gateway course, it could have some focus on traditionally under-represented groups or non-Western cultures along with a component of historical thinking and research, in order to engage a broader number of folks and disciplines in teaching it. This approach might reflect Bryan’s concern stated above. I also agree with preserving space in the curriculum for approaches from Art colleagues and in general theoretical / methodological research.