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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