University News

U. seeks student input on curriculum changes

Senior Staff Writer
Sunday, November 25, 2012

The University is reexamining its curriculum this year through the Committee on Educational Innovation and will reach out to the wider campus community today with an email soliciting input and ideas. The committee, which has met this semester to discuss incorporating topics like internationalization and community engagement into the curriculum, is one of six committees convened by Provost Mark Schlissel P’15 as part of the broader year-long strategic planning process that began at the start of President Christina Paxson’s tenure.

The email, sent Monday by Dean of the College and Committee Chair Katherine Bergeron, marks the committee’s initial attempt to expand its conversation about Brown’s academic direction beyond the 12 faculty members, administrators and students it comprises. In accordance with the committee’s charge – crafted by Schlissel, Bergeron and Theatre Arts and Performance Studies Associate Professor Patricia Ybarra, the committee’s co-chair – it is discussing a wide range of curricular issues. These include global citizenship and public service, online education, orienting students toward social justice, integrating science, math, pre-medical education and arts and humanities, committee members said.

The committee is planning to draft preliminary findings and recommendations toward the end of the semester and present them at the February meeting of the Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, Bergeron said. A final report will likely follow in May.

The committee is building on previous University efforts to reexamine the curriculum, Ybarra said. Five years ago, Bergeron convened a Task Force on Undergraduate Education, which issued a report and set of recommendations in September 2008. But the task force was more focused on improvements to the undergraduate advising system that have now been implemented, Ybarra said.

Current efforts are part of the University’s larger transitional efforts. “We’ve changed presidents and provosts and dean of faculties in the last two years,” Ybarra said. “I think people are kind of figuring out what’s next in a really productive way.”

In that spirit, the committee is much more “forward-thinking” than most university governance groups, said committee member Peter Johnson ’13. “It’s really great to be part of a process in which what we’re thinking about will hopefully be implemented within the next 10 years,” he said. “It’s a lot of, in a way, dreaming and looking at where we want Brown to be and what we want it to stress.”

The committee wants to “think about some initiatives for the future that would build on the competitive strengths, competitive advantages of the Brown undergraduate experience” within the existing framework, Bergeron said. 

These include finding inventive ways to emphasize certain priorities within the curriculum without creating new mandates for students, committee members said. After meeting with Roger Nozaki MAT’89, director of the Swearer Center for Public Service and associate dean of the College for community and global engagement, the committee is considering the idea of “engaged fellowships” to promote research connections among faculty, students and community groups, Bergeron said.

Discussions have included how to incorporate language study and international experiences as “a kind of special program alongside any given concentration,” Bergeron said. “What we’re talking about would not be a minor, and it wouldn’t be a certificate, but something that helps to shape a set of courses in the general education around issues having to do with international study.”

Other international discussion topics have included advising for students studying abroad and language requirements for study abroad programs, said Asia Nelson ’15, a committee member.

The tension between incorporating different initiatives into the curriculum and preserving Brown’s no-requirements philosophy is an important issue for the committee, Nelson said. One possible solution, she said, could be including some components only in specifically designated concentrations, rather than University-wide mandates.

Because the committee is still in its early stages, no definite solutions have yet been finalized. The current process is more about “casting our net really wide,” Johnson said.

Nelson said she appreciated the chance for students to make their voices heard alongside some of the University’s leaders. Committee members frequently turn to the undergraduate representatives for perspectives on what the student body needs and how it would receive various ideas, she said, adding that the process has “been a really empowering experience for me.”

Despite widespread perceptions of uncertainty in the higher education world, the committee is dedicated to promoting and perpetuating the ideals of the open curriculum, Ybarra said. “Everyone who’s sitting around the table does believe in the liberal arts, and I think that Brown, by virtue of its status – we’re not in a place of crisis,” she said. Pointing out that major curricular revisions have historically accompanied moments of national or international crisis – like Columbia adopting its core curriculum in response to World War I – Ybarra added that the committee is careful “not to jump before we need to jump.” 

Johnson said the New Curriculum is “a framework that we already have that works really well,” with the committee considering “what kind of other scaffolding or ornaments (we can) adhere to that.”

The committee has met three times so far with several more meetings planned for the end of the semester. Meetings are structured like a seminar, Bergeron said, with some readings on a specific topic sent out beforehand and a focus on open-ended discussion around the table.

Bergeron said input from the campus community will help provide innovative ways to think about addressing these issues. “We’re hoping … to send a broader inquiry out to the campus to ask for ideas that fall under these categories or other things that people think that we should consider,” she said.

Students can currently send thoughts or ideas to a committee-specific email address listed on the website to assist the committee as it creates initial plans this semester. Later in the year, “once some of the ideas (have) congealed,” Bergeron said the committee will likely hold a public forum.

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  1. The Brown Conversation says:

    Anyone that’s interested in this should come to the Brown Conversation’s meeting with the Education Innovation Committee on Saturday, December 8th from 6-8pm. Email for more information

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