Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Wednesday, July 18, 2018

New core curriculum set for 2018-2019 academic year

Faculty senate approves revamped general education program

New core curriculum set for 2018-2019 academic year

The AU Faculty Senate unanimously approved a new Core Curriculum program last month that will be implemented in the 2018-2019 school year. The new curriculum was designed to “encourage our students to engage with complexity, value diversity and understand change,” according to the program proposal.

A “core curriculum” is a foundational set of classes taken across the university. In the new program, students will begin with introductory level writing and math and continue with general education courses that coincide with a student's specific major. Each individual will ultimately have the same foundational background to carry with them into the specialized studies. This varies from the program set in place for students now.

Under the current General Education program there are five foundational areas, which include creative arts, traditions that shape the western world, global and cross-cultural experience, social institutions and behavior and natural and mathematical sciences. Students are required to take two courses in each of these areas.

Once they have completed all ten classes with a C grade or better, the General Education requirement is complete; this is often done within a student’s first two years at AU. This is different from the new program which is slated for students to finish in four years, all the way through a capstone project.

“I think that both faculty and advisors and students have all come to look at Gen Ed as being divorced from their major and divorced from their career aspirations, just something to get over,” said College of Arts and Sciences Dean Peter Starr. “We want to create Gen Ed as a complement to the majors and career work.”

The current General Education program was designed in 1989 and has been updated a few times since. Faculty members wanted to replace the school’s general education program because its main purpose -- to expose students to a broad base of knowledge -- was no longer being achieved, according to the committee’s proposal.

Students who earned high scores on certain Advanced Placement exams were exempt from large portions of the requirements, according to the proposal. The program was no longer uniform across the student body; not everyone was required to fulfill the same number of courses. It has been reworked so that this can no longer happen.

“It has a sense that you have two sets of students, the students that only have to take four and the students that have to take 10,” Starr said.

Starting in the summer of 2015, the General Education Committee began examining the current curriculum. Starr said they were “going around, talking to people, trouble shooting” to come up with a proposal to bring to the Faculty Senate.

Since then, they have created a model that they believe produces an “effective citizen.” According to the proposal, the committee defines this as “someone who understands connections among ideas and can engage in a global society; and a model of curiosity that helps students understand how different disciplines ask and answer questions.”

“In particular, our proposal is built around a developmental arc that starts with a first-year experience and foundational skills, highlights essential habits of mind, then integrates these skills and habits with the major, culminating in a capstone,” Starr said.

The new program is designed for students to complete their core requirements from freshman year all the way through graduation. The course track begins with Complex Problems, a class offered to introduce students to college level critical thinking through analysis of real world problems. The track also includes AUx1 and AUx2, which address the diversity and inclusion aspects of the new mission.

Cindy Bair Van Dam, a senior professorial lecturer and general education program chair, said in an email she is “very excited about the new AUx1 and AUx2 courses, along with the Diverse Experiences requirement.” Bair Van Dam was one of the key members of the curriculum revamping.

Piloting the new curriculum

Complex Problems, AUx1 and AUx2 were all piloted in the 2016-2017 academic year. In fall 2016, incoming freshmen were eligible to enroll in the Complex Problems Living Learning Community, as well as sign up for the AUx1 course.

Freshmen Zak Marsh, a student in the School of Public Affairs, and Sophie Fickenscher, a student in the College of Arts and Sciences, participated in the pilot programs this year.

Marsh’s Complex Problems course focused on juvenile justice.

“It got my entire class thinking about things that don’t always have that mathematical, 2+2=4 way of thinking. There is more than one way to get an answer. I enjoyed Complex Problems, personally,” Marsh said. “It expanded us from high school thinking to thinking on our own.”

Fickenscher participated in both the Complex Problems and AUx pilots.

“The whole idea of Complex Problems is to allow freshmen to have a piece of the pie,” Fickenscher said. They are now a part of the bigger conversations.

When it comes to the AU Experience classes Fickenscher said “it’s not for everyone and needs tailoring.” She said that there was a liberal bias, which upset some students.

This spring, those same students registered for the AUx2 edition, which deals with diversity and inclusion. More sections for these courses will become available for the fall 2017 school year.

“Our students have been asking for a course like this for quite a while, and we’re thrilled to put it in the AU Core curriculum,” Bair Van Dam said in the email.

The next set of requirements are Foundations Courses, which include written communication and information- and quantitative-literacy courses.

Following those are the Habits of Mind courses, which are similar to the former Gen Ed requirement. Courses under this label include: creativity and aesthetic sensibility, cultural interpretation, ethical reasoning, natural-scientific inquiry and socio-historical understanding.

Proceeding habits of mind and the integrative courses: diverse experience (DIV), written communication and information literacy II and quantitative literacy II. The last two are the toolkit courses, one credit classes for work and life experience, and the capstone.

According to the writers of the new program, the main take away from the new curriculum is the emphasis on diverse experiences.

“We also hope faculty will be eager to have a DIV course type attached to their classes, and eventually, so many classes will be certified as DIV courses that students will take many of them as they move through their Habits of Mind courses and into their majors,” Bair Van Dam said in the email.

bcrummy@theeagleonline.com


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