The Class of 2017 could begin taking new core classes as early as next spring, pending the approval of the latest core plan by University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., and University Provost Cutberto Garza.
This plan was originally slated to be implemented in the fall of 2013 but was pushed back in order to get more feedback and allow professors enough time to develop their courses. It has undergone several revisions and will continue to be adapted according to feedback from both faculty and students in the coming weeks, according to Mary Crane, English professor and co-chair of the Core Renewal Committee.
The most current plans call for a few freshman-level courses to be released and tested in the spring of 2014. The old core should be completely replaced by fall of 2016.
The 42-credit core curriculum has been extensively redesigned. The new program includes three categories of courses: enduring questions, complex problems, and exploration. These new categories have been designed to give students the most interdisciplinary and hands-on learning experience possible.
“This is a moment where we have to think again about making sure that what we’re offering students is the best thing that we could be doing for them, and making sure that we’re educating students for the 21st century,” Crane said.
The vast majority of students will take both their enduring question and complex problem courses during their freshman year.
Each freshman class will be divided into groups of 200 to 225 students, called communities of inquiry, which will each focus on a different topic, such as “understanding the past” or “inhabiting space.” This larger group would then be subdivided into six or seven pairs of linked courses that each answers a variety of questions, such as “How does the past shape the future?” or “What is the role of beauty?” Each linked course will have an average of 32 students.
Under the umbrella of “understanding the past,” for example, students might take one course in history and one in literature, which would be connected by readings, topics, and a set of questions that the two co-teaching professors choose to explore. Each course would be three credits and together would count for a student’s history and literature core requirements.
The new core also calls for students to participate in shared learning experiences outside of the classroom. To this end, Crane said, students would be gathering together in their larger, 200 student cohorts on a regular basis for films, lectures, or presentations on topics relevant to the enduring question that they are studying.
“We want to definitely bring all 200 together for some things, like having a film for everybody or maybe having a lecture for everybody, but they could also do things broken up in their groups,” Crane said. “We’re also thinking that people could go to the Museum of Fine Arts as a group or could go to a play … in smaller groups.”
Perspectives I as it currently stands will count as an enduring question course, and students who take Perspectives II will have the option of postponing their complex problem requirement until their sophomore year.
Each complex problem course is a six-credit, team-taught course focusing on global issues such as terrorism, sustainability, human rights, and global wealth and poverty. Like the enduring question courses, complex problem courses will each fulfill two core requirements.
Instead of regular meetings outside of class, complex problem courses include a 90-minute lab once per week in which students will put what they have learned into practice.
“The idea is that, in addition to discussion, there will be some more hands on projects that students will work on,” Crane said.
While the University has done extensive research on other universities with similar course structures, some courses at BC have been assigning such immersive projects for years. For example, Crane said that some history courses at BC have helped curate exhibits of rare books in the Burns Library.
“We also hope that through the lab, students will get some skills in Excel and PowerPoint, skills that people need to know,” Crane said. “Writing is always going to be really important, but there are some other kinds of skills for the 21st century that students could be getting.”
Both complex problem and enduring question courses would culminate with a final project, which students will work on in groups toward the end of the year and then present to a large group. Crane said that there are two main reasons for including these projects in the new core curriculum.
“One of them is just that it’s increasingly important for people, for their jobs, to learn how to work in groups and do projects,” Crane said. “Also, BC students, the alumni that we heard from especially, felt like they didn’t have enough experience with public presentations.” To help students prepare, Crane said that they would be getting help and training to develop presentation skills.
“The other thing is just that if students are going to be working hard on these courses … this really interesting stuff, then it would be great to make it more visible on this campus,” Crane said.
The logistics of where, when, and for whom students would be presenting their final projects is still being discussed.
The exploration courses, which students will use to fulfill the remaining 30 credits of their core, fall into two categories: foundation courses, which will be designed to give students a basic understanding of the tools and knowledge necessary to understand a particular discipline, and immersion courses, which will focus on a more specific topic or concept within a discipline.
Exploration courses will also be offered at varying levels of difficulty so that students can still learn important information without feeling overwhelmed or unchallenged.
Individual departments will be able to choose how many foundation and immersion courses they will offer. Some might choose to only offer one type or the other.
“There are some departments like, for instance, theology, where hardly anyone has studied theology,” Crane said. “They really consider their courses foundational, and they think everybody needs that foundation. They can decide.”
Departments will also stipulate whether students may choose either foundation or immersion courses to fulfill their requirement, or whether one of each is necessary.
The core also has an increased focus on reflection. Crane said that less work has been done on this facet so far, but that students should at least be made more aware of the Campus Mission and Ministry resources available to them. In addition, students might have the opportunity to go on retreats related to their topic of study or hear from professionals involved in careers that deal with the relevant complex problem or enduring question.
“I think people will understand that the first couple of times that we’re trying this, there will have to be flexibility,” Crane said.
There has also been discussion about replacing the Blackboard Vista system with a newer model that would make providing and collecting feedback much easier and faster, Crane said. An associate dean of the core will also be hired to deal with issues and, with a new Core Renewal Committee, will oversee the general implementation of the core.
“We’re going to be paying a lot of attention to getting a lot of feedback from the faculty involved and from the students involved,” Crane said.
Changes to courses, she said, do not necessarily have to wait until the end of the year and can instead be made as soon as possible, if necessary.
This comprehensive and interdisciplinary overhaul, Crane said, is grounded in making coursework more central, especially in students’ freshman year.
“I think part of our thinking about these freshman courses is, in freshman year, to offer courses that are really interesting and engaging, and to make coursework a little more central to what students to and how they spend their time,” she said. “Our part of that is to make these really interesting. This is not just saying, ‘You students have to do more work,’ it’s saying, ‘We want to offer more interesting, compelling courses, and have them be a little more central.'”