Strengthening Our Liberal Arts Core

Dec 9th, 2013 | By | Category: Highlights

BY Dr. Patricia Dwyer

As a defining element of a liberal arts college, the core curriculum serves as the foundation of important knowledge and skills such as communication, inquiry, understanding multiple perspectives and developing lifelong intellectual curiosity.

Wesley College’s 2009-2014 Strategic Plan called for a thorough review of its 20-year-old core curriculum and the creation of a new revitalized core. To accomplish this, Wesley decided to involve the entire faculty.

In spring 2010, the faculty began identifying student learning outcomes they want to see realized in every graduate. For two and-a-half years, they studied current trends in core curriculum development and teaching strategies to reach Wesley students, almost 50 percent of whom are identified as the first in their families to attend college.

Under the old core, students choose from a wide array of courses under five broad themes, and take primarily 100-level core courses at any point of their academic career in no particular order. As approved by the faculty in February 2013, Wesley’s new core curriculum instead focuses on developing skills at each level of the students’ four-year program.

In the first year, students take essential skills courses focusing on communication and inquiry, including a first-year seminar, a quantitative analysis course that prepares students to apply statistics to everyday life, a proposed “Frontiers of Science” introductory course to the scientific method, and two writing courses focused on developing writing and research skills. In the second year, students take integrative courses in four traditional liberal arts categories: Art and Culture, Religion and Philosophy, Literature and Languages, and History and Social Sciences. Instead of taking a history or English survey course that covers hundreds of years, students instead begin seeing connections and intersections among these disciplines by taking more topical courses such as “Literature and the Great War,” or “Psychology and Sports.”

In the third year, students take three related 300-level courses in their chosen concentration, such as “Understanding Diversity” or “Social Responsibility.” They complete the core with a capstone course in their major, a course that often applies skills and knowledge in an internship, undergraduate research project, student teaching or nursing clinical.

Through support from grants like the NSF EPSCoR and NIH INBRE grants, undergraduate research is a key element at Wesley. In the past, most undergraduate research students were juniors and seniors. In the new core curriculum, however, all students are introduced to undergraduate research in their first year through courses based on a faculty member’s interest or expertise.

This fall, students helped test the new core, as the faculty piloted 12 first-year seminars and assessed learning outcomes and course effectiveness. Seminars include “Bee-Keeping,” “All About Dover,” “Studying Cultures through Mystery Writing,” “Life Stories: Reading and Writing Memoirs,” and “Media and the Truth.”

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