Committee examines core curriculum, seeks faculty, student input on proposed changes

BLACKSBURG, Va., March 3, 2005 – The Ad Hoc Core Curriculum Steering Committee, appointed by University Provost Mark McNamee last fall to examine the university's core curriculum and suggest recommendations and initiatives to make it better meet the demands of the future, will soon be seeking faculty and student input on proposed changes to the core.

"The core is somewhat rigid, and its relationship with other parts of education is not fully developed," said Robert Jones, chair of the committee and head of the Department of Biology. "We're trying to make it flexible and better aligned with the rest of the educational experience. We want the core to be an integrative and innovative experience that allows students to meet the challenges of the 21st century."

The committee is proposing a name change from "core curriculum" to "general and integrative studies" or simply "general education." "We want a name that reflects what it is," Jones said.

The committee has pulled together "elements of the overall educational experience that already exist, and we want to make them visible so students can better see their options," he said.

According to Jones, the committee wants to use incentives and student demand to foster voluntary adoption of the offerings. Those offerings would be listed on a website and in printed material so students would become familiar with them.

Among the proposed recommendations are to make students aware of the flexibility in the core, to build upon the existing system, to enhance the core with several program additions, and to continue to provide students with opportunities for variations for specific goals they have as individuals.

The committee is suggesting the addition of a common question — a single question that would be addressed across the university, similar to the common book project — while another proposal is to encourage greater use of capstone experiences, which are problem-solving exercises or projects that integrate many parts of a discipline and bring in interdisciplinary elements.

Another recommendation is to facilitate e-portfolio use, a voluntary on-line activity that would be encouraged because it offers students opportunities for self-assessment and learning by reflecting on previous work.

Other recommendations involve changes in the faculty Core Curriculum Committee and the Office of the Provost to encourage innovation in the core and to keep it flexible. "We want to explore funding mechanisms that reflect student and faculty interest and have incentives to fund not only the traditional core courses but, if possible, existing and new courses that foster interdisciplinary learning," Jones said. "One new pilot project already under way, for example, involves a series of courses based on 'Living in the 21st Century' and represents a very efficient, highly integrated framework for meeting all core requirements with approximately half the number of courses."

The committee also is suggesting that the university create an Office of General Education to elevate the profile and importance of the core within the university community and to provide students with a valuable resource center to complement existing advising resources.

According to McNamee, feedback from various stakeholders and focus groups, which will meet this semester, will be used to modify, delete, or add recommendations. "The committee will use this feedback to prepare a final report, which will be considered by the university's administration and governance system. The ad hoc committee builds upon the intensive work carried out last year and sets the stage for an evolutionary, but critically important, improvement in the educational opportunities for undergraduates," he said.

The provost's office has scheduled a mini-retreat to review, refine, and revitalize the core curriculum from 1:30 to 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 15, in Owens Banquet Hall.