|Vol. 17, No. 9||Oct. 30, 1997|
On Oct. 14, Richard Kamber, dean of arts and sciences at the College of New Jersey, and Robert Anderson, who heads the general education program at the College of New Jersey, discussed the evolution of that institution's widely acclaimed new general education curriculum.
On Oct. 21, Carol Schneider, executive vice president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, who has worked with more than 400 institutions on curriculum issues, addressed the context in which curricular change is taking place and laid out strategies for connecting general education courses to students' majors.
The goal of both addresses was to inform the UD community about the many issues associated with what is loosely called "general education."
In her remarks, Schneider paid special attention to strategies to improve undergraduate instruction that have been adopted at large research universities such as the University of Delaware.
Until the early 1990s, two models of undergraduate education prevailed. While few institutions have required their undergraduates to take a core curriculum most have relied on a distribution model that assumed that students who take an array of introductory courses in various disciplines and a few "skills" courses will be able to integrate what they have learned, relate it to their major field and emerge from their college experience prepared to understand and to become leaders in the world.
During the current decade, hundreds of colleges and universities, both large and small, have recognized the inadequacy of that model to fulfill its promise and have moved toward new ways of educating students to provide greater intellectual coherence, more active student engagement in learning, the integration of skills throughout the curriculum, attention to global issues, ethics and human diversity and a better articulated relationship between what goes on in the classroom and what is happening in the world outside.
These changes, Schneider emphasized, relate to the undergraduate curriculum as a whole, encompassing both general courses and the individual student's major. They address not only what is taught but how it is taught.
The College of New Jersey took more than six years to develop its current curriculum, which integrates a freshman core course, entitled "From Athens to New York" into a modified distribution system. That institution also intensified student writing and has added a community service component.
Kamber and Anderson admitted that they have made some mistakes along the way that had to be corrected after implementation began, and they acknowledged that their new program has necessitated the reallocation of scarce resources. Even though assessment of the new program is difficult, they said they believe that it has benefited both students and faculty, and it has been the key to a heightened sense of intellectual community at their institution.
In her presentation, Schneider noted that a number of research universities have introduced freshman interdisciplinary theme courses to provide an intellectual link among subsequent strands of distribution courses.
She said that in some large institutions these themes have been the basis for the creation of "learning communities" that provide closer student-faculty ties and faculty contacts across disciplinary boundaries that have led to collaborative research enterprises.