Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Curriculum changes to help students apply knowledge across disciplines

When the class of 2014 arrives at DU in the fall, its members will participate in a new general education program — known as the common curriculum — designed to help students integrate and apply knowledge from across disciplines.

All DU undergraduate students will be required to complete 52–60 credits in the curriculum. That’s down from the 72 credits called for in the current general education program, known as UReqs, or University Requirements.

By freeing up student schedules, the re-imagined curriculum allows students to complete more coursework in their majors and minors, says Jennifer Karas, associate provost of academic programs. Still others, she adds, may apply the hours to double majors or an additional minor.

Eighteen months in the making, the common curriculum was developed by a 15-member faculty committee chaired by Luc Beaudoin, associate professor of Russian. The committee was charged with structuring a curriculum relevant to a global culture and tied to the University’s vision, values, mission and goals.

“It’s outcomes-focused,” Beaudoin explains, noting that each part of the curriculum was shaped with specific learning objectives in mind. What’s more, he says, the curriculum demonstrates how various fields of knowledge relate to and inform one another.

The new requirements focus on two themes: the natural and physical world, and society and culture.

Students begin the curriculum with a first-year seminar that helps them discover what it means to be an active member of an intellectual community. A carryover from the previous general education curriculum, the seminar emphasizes critical reading, discussion, research and writing. In addition, it provides the opportunity for students to build a strong advising and mentoring relationship with the professor.

The seminar is followed by two courses in writing and rhetoric. These develop the skills essential for college-level writing and reasoning.

The common curriculum also calls for three courses in a language of the student’s choice. Even if students test out of the three introductory language classes that generally satisfy this requirement, Beaudoin says, they will be required to take at least one advanced course in that language or one introductory course in another language. The language requirement prepares students for study abroad and for career success in an increasingly global marketplace.

Still another component of the curriculum emphasizes ways of knowing — both through analytical inquiry and scientific inquiry. Analytical inquiry is cultivated by one course in math or computer science and two selected from the arts and humanities. In these courses, students will learn to apply formal reasoning to problem solving, to understand connections between different areas of logic, to create or interpret the texts, ideas and artifacts of human culture, and to analyze the connections characterizing human experience.

Students will immerse themselves in scientific inquiry through five courses drawn primarily from the natural and social sciences. They will learn how the scientific process is used to contend with uncertainty, draw conclusions and make predictions. Just as important, they’ll learn how to apply qualitative and quantitative forms of analysis and evidence, and they’ll explore the basic principles of human conduct in social and cultural contexts.

Finally, Karas says, the common curriculum concludes with a writing-intensive advanced seminar where students are asked to apply knowledge and skills gained from previous courses in the curriculum.

Depending on how they structure their schedules, students may take this seminar as early as their sophomore year, Karas says, but most will take it during their junior year. For most students, she adds, the course will follow a Cherrington Global Scholars study abroad stint, meaning students can draw upon a host of different experiences to shape their work in the seminar.

“It’s a class that is upper-level where students will be able to work on issues from various points of view,” Beaudoin says.

Most students will take an advanced seminar in a subject outside their major. Karas and Beaudoin believe this will broaden perspectives and prepare them for capstone projects and senior theses required in the majors.

In developing the curriculum, Beaudoin explains, the faculty committee evaluated the existing University Requirements, as well as general education curricula at other universities, and tried to create a program that reflected best practices while advancing DU’s own undergraduate learning objectives.

The curriculum was approved by the DU Board of Trustees in fall 2009. It was also approved by the Undergraduate Council, a faculty group responsible for new curriculum, and by the Faculty Senate.

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