On the surface, the classes Human Disease: Plagues, Pathogens and Chronic Disorders and Health, the Economy and Society seem to cover the same basic material as a first-year Molecules and Cells or microeconomics class. But unlike typical core classes, these programs examine how both disciplines relate to essential current issues, human health, and to each other.
Human Disease is just one of many new courses available to freshmen next semester as part of Boston College’s Core Pilot program. Introduced in 2015, and now in the second year of a three-year pilot period, these courses are an interdisciplinary way for freshmen to fulfill the University’s core requirements.
“It’s a more focused and more integrated way to approach these questions,” said Charles Keenan, assistant director of the core curriculum for the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences.
The University’s core program has existed in its current form since 1991. Starting in 2012, Keenan said, professors began conversations about ways to renew and revamp the core to make it more engaging and more beneficial to students.
So far, student and faculty feedback to the core pilot programs has been overwhelmingly positive, so much so that the administration has added more classes and seats to respond to student demand. This year, the program offers more classes with 750 total seats, up from 350 in 2015. In the future, Keenan sees the program expanding even more.
The program offers two different types of classes. Enduring Questions courses like Human Disease consist of lectures by faculty members from two different departments centered around an essential question or theme. The same group of 19 students attends each lecture and often examines the same readings through the lenses of two different disciplines.
Meanwhile, Complex Problems courses examine a contemporary issue in society and are co-taught by faculty from two different disciplines in the same 76-person lecture. These courses address current issues that are engaging not just to students but to everyone, said Keenan. Examples include a course on the ethics of climate change that covers both philosophy and environmental science, and Performing Politics, co-taught by professors from the theatre and political science departments.
“It’s been really exciting to see how creative the faculty can be and how much students seem to enjoy it and how engaged they are in classes they might not normally take.”
—Charles Keenan, assistant director of the core curriculum for the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences
According to Keenan, the interdisciplinary aspect of these courses is one of the most exciting and unique parts of the program for students.
“They really appreciate the integration across two different disciplines and…learning how different subjects approach these questions in different ways. It’s a different way of doing core,” he said.
In addition to this interdisciplinary focus, both Complex Problems and Enduring Questions courses are also highly personal. Both types of courses incorporate reflection sessions. Students in Complex Problems classes meet in groups of 19 once a week, while students in Enduring Questions meet for reflection four times per semester. Professors have a great deal of creative freedom within this reflection time—students hear from guest speakers, create film projects, go on nature walks, and visit the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
In addition, Complex Problems classes include lab sections that focus on active learning, hands-on projects, and problem solving. For example, a class last semester called Can Creativity Save the World?, co-taught by professors from the economics and theatre departments, focused on innovation and entrepreneurship and drew students with diverse interests. Students designed their own products in the business lab section and produced creative performances in the theatre lab.
Administrators and professors designing these courses remain highly aware that they are teaching a whole people, Keenan said.
“The idea there is to connect what’s going on outside the classroom with what’s going on outside the classroom in student lives,” he said.
Depending on feedback throughout the three pilot years of the program, BC may develop similar programs for sophomores or even a senior capstone project. For now, as registration for freshmen opens in a few weeks, core pilot courses remain a unique opportunity for first-year students.
“You know, I don’t know how many students would think they were going to take a theater course this year,” Keenan said, referring to Can Creativity Save the World? “It’s been really exciting to see how creative the faculty can be and how much students seem to enjoy it and how engaged they are in classes they might not normally take.”
Featured Image by Margaux Eckert / Senior Staff