Goucher curriculum to undergo revision in coming years

Rachel Brustein

Since the inauguration of President José Antonio Bowen, marking the beginning of the recent shift in the college’s administration, there have been many formal and informal discussions about designing a new curriculum.
In the fall of 2015, an ad hoc curriculum committee formed, consisting of six faculty elected by their peers. Since then, the committee has been meeting for several hours a week to discuss how the curriculum can better serve the needs of Goucher students. Each of the six committee members is also heading a working group to tackle a specific aspect of the curriculum. The working group topics include “Big Questions” and the first year experience, “Foundations,” interdisciplinary studies/high impact practices, senior capstones, the calendar/schedule, and study abroad.
“Our goals for the year’s work were to identify what was working well in the undergraduate curriculum . . . and identify areas that seemed ripe for renewal,” said Juliette Wells, Associate Professor of English and the curriculum committee representative for humanities.
“Big Questions” is a potential model to reimagine the Liberal Education Requirements (LERs), First Year Experience (FYE) and Frontiers. This committee is currently toying with ideas of Big Questions. “What is justice,” “what constitutes an education,” what is power,” and “how do we communicate” are just a few questions from a list of over 75 questions. A possible model for this initiative is for students to choose one or two Big Questions, and then address that question by taking several classes in various disciplines. The committee must also consider when students will choose their question(s)—should it be before arriving at Goucher? After the first semester? After the first year? Other questions and possibilities were discussed in this working group, such as how the Big Questions and FYE initiative will tie into advising, should there be more team-taught, interdisciplinary courses, and whether or not all faculty should be required to teach Frontiers or its replacement.
“We [the ad hoc group] felt that the LER system as it stands doesn’t offer a coherent and meaningful general education program for our students . . . they’re [students] thinking of them as a checklist of obligations, rather than a set list of opportunities,” Wells said.
The Big Questions/FYE working group has a lot of questions they need to address. How will the Big Questions initiative line up with the liberal arts, Foundations, and the Maryland state requirements? How can the fall of freshman year be different? How can the Big Questions be weaved into the first year experience?
“We’ve been through many different versions of the general education curriculum,” said Judith Levine, Professor of Biology and Chemistry, and co-head of the Big Questions/FYE working group. Levine is in her 23rd year of working at Goucher and has seen many curriculum changes during her time here. “At one point we had a course called CIE, which stood for Common Intellectual Experience,” a first year seminar that predated Frontiers, Levine explained. Before the general education requirements and LERs were developed, students were required to take a certain number of courses from each academic division of the college. “We [the faculty] sense that the LERs are viewed as a Chinese menu….people are choosing their courses less on what they’re interested in . . . and more on ‘does it fit in my schedule?,’ ‘does it satisfy more than one requirement?’” Levine said.  “This whole Big Questions idea came out of the idea of wanting to get students excited about academic inquiry as soon as they get to college,” she added.
“Foundations” is working group related to Big Questions. “Foundations” includes basic requirements such as writing, math, and foreign language. “The Math Department was thinking ‘could we have a quantitative reasoning requirement,’” said Gina Shamshak, Associate Professor of Economics and the head of the “Foundations” working group. One idea on the table is for quantitative research and data analytics classes to count for an LER in place of an overall math requirement, which many students currently fulfill with Math 100. “We want to create a requirement that is much more intentional and feels like it matters . . . we want your course of study to actually have meaning,” Shamshak said. The Writing Program was revised and implemented this past year, and foreign language has not yet been discussed.
The interdisciplinary studies working group is looking for a way to make interdisciplinary majors more cohesive. Right now, students can create their own major, but they still operate in each of the three separate departments that make up said major. “We’ve seen a trend over the past few years…there have been more students interested in interdisciplinary studies,” said Iyun Harrison, Assistant Professor of Dance and the head of the interdisciplinary working group. “Is there a way to bring all of this together in a cohesive and logical way for students and faculty? The idea is that we want more cross-disciplinary work happening at the school for both students and faculty.” Harrison stressed the need for interdisciplinary students and faculty to have a physical space on campus where they can meet. “We’re [faculty] hoping that as the new curriculum unfolds, that interdisciplinarity becomes a more central focus of the Goucher education,” Harrison added.
This focus group also examines “High Impact Practices”—components of higher education that have been shown to be meaningful for students. Goucher already has some High Impact Practices in place, such as study abroad and a first year seminar (Frontiers), but is looking to implement more.
One of the working groups is examining senior capstones and trying to decide if they should be required for all majors.  Currently, not all majors have capstones, and of the ones that do, some are optional.
Jamie Mullaney ‘95, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, is heading the working group on the calendar and schedule. “It includes looking at the semester as a block of time, and thinking about whether that’s the best structure for learning and pedagogy, and/or if there’s a way to be a little flexible within the semester,” Mullaney said. “Their [the faculty’s] first response to a lot of change is ‘no,’ but really you have to step back and say, ‘Why are you saying no?’” she added. Mullaney stressed the importance of looking at research about what the best blocks of time are for learning. One idea is to have some half-semester courses, and to move to a model in which all classes are either two or four credits, in order to avoid the three-credit or four-credit overlap that exists now. “One thing we’re noticing is that the schedule is very broken . . . because three and four don’t align…it’s not sustainable, particularly in a school that’s small,” Mullaney said. The committee is also discussing the length of breaks, and how they fit into the semester as whole.
In order to get students involved in the working groups, Provost Leslie Lewis talked with Deanna Galer ‘17, former Goucher Student Government (GSG) Senate President, and Dawnya Johnson ‘19, current GSG Senate President. Additionally, Mullaney’s Sociology and Anthropology Senior Capstone course ran six student focus groups in order to get feedback from students on learning styles, Frontiers, LERs, Big Questions, and the calendar and scheduling.
“There’s been discussion of the new curriculum in a significant way since José became president,” Lewis said. “Since he’s been here, he has raised many questions to the faculty about various parts of what we’re doing with the curriculum, and has asked people to think about those questions.”
“We hope that the faculty will agree on . . . the structure of this new curriculum by the end of this academic year, so that the Board [of Trustees] can take this up at the May Board meeting, and then we would have a full year . . . to think through implementation so that this would go into effect for fall of ‘17,” Lewis said. No official decisions have been made on the curriculum, and there are many conversations still happening. Students are encouraged to give feedback to the ad hoc committee through GSG.


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