Quinnipiac University College of Arts and Sciences

The “End” of the UC Core?

In Faculty, Teaching on February 2, 2012 at 6:18 pm

by David A. Valone, Professor of History

Note: This is an editorial, and represents the views of the author and not of CAS or the University.

As we continue to attempt to re-envision ourselves in the context of the New Synthesis initiative and development of the Essential Learning Outcomes and coming e-Portfolio implementation, I believe it is time that we take a serious look at the University Curriculum as a whole and consider how it fits into our new “Learning Centered” community.

To begin, let me quickly engage in some historical considerations. The current UC curriculum was implemented about six years ago after a lengthy process of University-wide discussion. The “old core” was essentially just a grab bag of courses in various distributional areas. The “new core” (now the UC) was designed at that time in large measure to help to rectify this smorgasbord approach of the “old core.” In particular, the QU seminars were designed as a means of ensuring that students had some kind of common experience that unified and help structure their undergraduate education. On top of the new QU seminar series, distribution areas from the “old core” were maintained. These included requirements that students take courses in English composition and in Math, as well as in the Behavioral and Social Sciences, Humanities, Fine Arts and in the Sciences.

Now, some practical considerations: CAS is the University Curriculum. With the exception of the QU Seminar series, more than 90% “distributional area” courses in the UC are housed within the College of Arts and Sciences. The “end” of the UC, upon reflection, seems to me to be two-fold: to provide a unifying experience and a sense of community (in keeping with the University’s mission statement) through the QU seminars, and to promote a classical ‘Liberal” education for our students.
So, how does the UC fit within the new “Learning Paradigm”? How does it coordinate with the Essential Learning Outcomes? How might it be paired with the new e-Portfolio initiative? I would argue that with regard to all three of these points–beyond the QU Seminar series–it does not. The new “smorgasbord” of the University Curriculum, and by this I mean all parts of it outside the QU seminar series, are just ways that we try (upon reflection through the old instructional paradigm model) to make sure that our students are getting a Liberal Education. If this is the case, then I think we need to ask “could we construct our curriculum better, to make it more ‘learner centered.’”

The answer, I think, is clearly yes.

How might we do this? There are surely many possible answers to this question, but I will suggest just one here to get the conversation started. Rather than “forcing” students into various courses through our current system of various area distributions, we “ask” the students to create their own core curriculum, tailored to their particular needs, through courses largely of their own choosing. The system I envision looks like this: 9 credits of QU seminars, 36 credits of courses within the College of Arts and Sciences outside their major. To me, this system has many, many advantages: it would give students ownership over their own educational choices; it would free us in CAS to create new and innovative classes that would draw students without needing the UC stamp of approval; it would foster a climate of innovation and interdisciplinary development; it would “solve” a number of problems with the implementation and significance of the ePortfolio and ELOs; it would vastly simplify the assessment of our “core curriculum” for NEASC.

Would it create new problems? Yes, certainly. Advising would be a very big issue under this new system, since both the role and responsibility of the advisor would expand. It could potentially make course planning more difficult, and probably would give the Registrar some trouble as well. But these are a good problem to have, I would argue. We need to re-think advising in any case, and this would be a much better context in which to do so. I’m sure other objections can and should be raised. But this is a set of discussions that I think it is time for us to have, both within CAS and across the University.

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