BC Faculty Convenes At Town Hall Meeting To Discuss Core Renewal

The renewal process for the University core curriculum at Boston College will continue this fall with a new short-term objective—creating and selecting proposals for pilot courses that will be implemented beginning in the 2015-16 academic year.

This latest phase comes after nearly three years of ongoing efforts to renew the core in ways that would better emphasize complex thinking, student intellectual formation, and interdisciplinary approaches.

In 2013, the initial Core Renewal Committee released its proposed 42-credit core, which included two six-credit courses for freshmen focusing on “enduring questions” and “complex problems.” In response to significant concerns from the faculty, the committee halted efforts to implement this approach.

Last February, faculty and administrators formed the Core Foundations Task Force to establish a vision for the University core curriculum, setting aside specific logistics to ensure their efforts aligned with the Jesuit educational model and the ultimate outcomes they wanted for BC students.

Fourteen faculty and administrators, led by College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences Interim Dean Rev. Greg Kalscheur, S.J., constitute the task force, which released a vision statement for the curriculum.

The document emphasizes the importance of the Jesuit educational ideas of “intellectual rigor in pursuit of truth and growth in knowledge of the whole of reality” and “developing the habits of mind, heart, and imagination that will equip students to contribute to the common good and live meaningful lives.” It also expresses the hope that students are exposed to disciplinary specificity and depth, as well as broad perspectives, to learn how to solve modern, global challenges.

Faculty members will play a key role in the new approach to the core, as they will be asked to deliver material in ways that consider the context of students’ lives and help students understand the world as a whole.

For the pilot courses set to begin next fall, the format will be similar to the initial proposal of six-credit course sequences for freshmen. According to Kalscheur, who addressed faculty in a town hall meeting Wednesday, two Enduring Questions pairs and one Complex Problems course will be taught each semester in the pilot program. In each component, courses will be linked by common topics and sets of questions.

An Enduring Questions pair will embody two independent courses that are related, each taught by one professor and containing 19 to 25 students. A Complex Problems course will embody one team-taught, interdisciplinary course worth six credits, with a larger enrollment of 75 to 80 students and smaller lab sections.

English professor and director of the Institute for Liberal Arts Mary Crane and associate professor of history Julian Bourg serve as project managers for the core pilot design implementation. Faculty interested in creating and teaching a pilot course will submit proposals by Nov. 3, and the task force will make decisions regarding which courses to pursue by mid-November.

“The process will require communication, flexibility, and patience on all our parts as we move forward to try something new,” Bourg said. “This is not an attempt to replace the strengths of the core we have, but to have an additive dimension, to have some new ways to connect—to connect ourselves to our students by engaging them in new ways with new types of classes; engage one another through interdisciplinary collaboration and dialogue in ways we maybe don’t fully realize at Boston College; and also to connect the core to Jesuit principles and processes of Ignatian pedagogy.”

Bourg clarified that nothing about the existing core distribution requirements is changing right now. An interdisciplinary Complex Problems course taught by a history professor and a sociology professor, for example, would fulfill one history and one social science course for a student’s core requirements. Students will receive core credit in their professors’ disciplines.

Kalscheur and Bourg also discussed additional required evening activities to enhance learning taking place in the classroom and deepen discussion. These might include lectures, as well as other programs implemented with the help of the divisions of Student Affairs and University Mission and Ministry.

“The idea behind the whole set of requirements that we’re talking about is to introduce first-year students to a particular kind of environment, to have rigorous intellectual conversation, and to engage in that reflection so [they] have a habit of mind and power of imagination that starts from the beginning,” Kalscheur said.

With regard to the number and variety of courses that will be offered, Kalscheur said one of the ideas of the new approach was to connect faculty expertise with core ideas, therefore a large Enduring Questions community of inquiry, for example, would include courses that engage different specific areas of expertise. He also said that the goal is to facilitate collaboration between different departments to draw faculty out of “disciplinary isolation.”

A challenge that Kalscheur acknowledged was fostering interest among incoming freshmen to register for the pilot courses, and that the task force would work closely with academic advisors and the Office of First Year Experience to make it an attractive option.

As far as the timeline for implementing new courses, Kalscheur said next year will have initial pilots, the following year will likely scale up those initial efforts, and a decision will then be made on full implementation. When asked how the task force will know if the pilots are successful, he said it will depend on whether the courses meet the goals for core learning outcomes, have the desired integrative effects, and work logistically.

Featured Image by Daniel Lee / Heights Senior Staff

About Julie Orenstein 47 Articles
Julie Orenstein was a Heights editor for three long years that still somehow went by too quickly. She can be found singing in inopportune places, playing sports badly, eating grilled cheese, or just talking at anything that will listen.