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Task Force for Curricular Reform


May 18, 2006
This supplement is presented as advisory to the Educational Policy Committee and to the Executive Officers of the University.  It separates some of the key elements of our original proposal, assigns them priorities, and clarifies and fleshes out in a manner consistent with the original intent of the majority of the Task Force.  The recommendations that follow are separable.  Those related to structure and advising are listed in order of the priority set by the Task Force. 

In view of responses from the colleges and schools, the Task Force does not wish to support the idea of requiring first-year students to defer major selection while being assigned to a University College. 

1. Recommendations on Structure

a. Create a central administrative entity, led by a dean-level official in charge of curricular issues, to work with faculty groups that direct curricular matters, and, with faculty, to set standards for core courses, negotiate with deans and departments about the introduction of core requirements, seek sources of funding to support the core, etc., with a continuing role in curriculum development and oversight.

b. Colleges, departments, and individual faculty members will be compensated as appropriate for effort spent on core education.

c. Call this new entity “Baccalaureate College” and consider it an umbrella for the education of all undergraduates. All undergraduate students would be citizens of this college throughout their time at UT; undergraduates with declared majors would have dual citizenship in the colleges of their majors and in the Baccalaureate College.

2. Recommendations on Advising

a. A center for strategic or developmental advising for all students, under the umbrella of the new entity in 1.

b. Colleges and programs will provide some access for students who defer selection of a major until the beginning of their third semester, as stated in the TFCR report.

3. Recommended Definitions for Courses Bearing Flags

Preamble for All Flags

A course bears a flag if it satisfies university criteria for fundamental educational goals. The purpose of the flag requirements is to enhance core education at UT throughout a student’s four-year experience, without subjecting students to additional required courses. Flag courses need not be devoted entirely to the goals indicated by the flags, so long as they contain components meeting flag criteria.

Colleges and departments may specify requirements for their majors that go beyond the university-wide criteria. Flag-bearing courses will be funded sustainably and supported, as necessary, by TA training, faculty workshops, and curriculum development.

Courses bearing flags will be assessed periodically to determine whether or not they accomplish the objective of the flag.

Writing Flag (3 flags in addition to RHE 306 or equivalent)

Rationale: The faculty, students, alumni, and other groups agree that strong communication skills are critical to the success of graduates working in all fields and are expected of a university-educated person. Courses that receive the writing flag are responsible for developing clarity, precision, and style in student writing while teaching discipline specific material.

Catalog Text: Students must take three 3-hour courses that meet the requirements of the Flag for Writing.

Requirements or Threshold:

Courses that carry the writing flag must:
  • Require students to write regularly--several times during the semester--and to complete writing projects that are substantial. It is only through the practice of writing that students learn to be better writers.
  • Be structured around the principle that good writing requires rewriting. Students must receive meaningful feedback from the instructor (or teaching assistant) so they will improve successive drafts.
  • Include writing proficiency as at least a 25% component of the final grade in the course.
  • Provide an opportunity for students to read each other's work in order to offer constructive criticism. Careful reading and analysis of the writing of others is a valuable part of the learning process.
Quantitative Reasoning (1 flag)

Rationale: The following excerpt from Derek Bok’s book Our Underachieving Colleges, page 128, is not a bad start in formulating a set of goals for quantitative literacy.

What mathematical, statistical, and computer skills are necessary to navigate the world [students] are likely to experience? A team of experts assembled by the National Council on Education and the Disciplines gave the following answer in stating the case for quantitative literacy.

  • Arithmetic: Having facility with simple mental arithmetic estimating arithmetic calculations; reasoning with proportions; counting by indirection (combinatorics).
  • Data: Using information conveyed as data graphs and charts; drawing inference from data; recognizing disaggregation as a factor in interpreting data.
  • Computers: Using spreadsheets, recording data, performing calculations, creating graphic displays, extrapolating, fitting lines on curves to data.
  • Modeling: Formulating problems, seeking patterns, and drawing conclusions; recognizing interactions in complex systems; understanding linear, exponential, multivariate, and simulation models; understanding the impact of different rates of growth.
  • Statistics: Understanding the importance of variability; recognizing the differences between correlation and causation; between randomized experiments and observational studies, between finding no effect and finding no statistically significant effect (especially with small samples), and between statistical significance and practical importance (especially with large samples).
  • Chance: Recognizing that seemingly improbable coincidences are not uncommon; evaluating risks from available evidence; understanding the value of random samples.
  • Reasoning: Using logical thinking; recognizing levels of rigor in methods of inference; checking hypotheses; exercising caution in making generalizations.
One flagged course will not accomplish all the goals in the above list, but this list or an edited version of it could be presented as a resource for course developers.

Catalog Text: Students must take one 3-hour course that meets the requirements of the Quantitative Reasoning Flag.

Requirements or Threshold: To satisfy the quantitative reasoning flag, at least half of the course content, class time, assignments, and method of determining the grade must focus on goals in the above list conducted at the university level. At least half of the course activities must involve active student experiences of quantitative or logical reasoning.

Rote learning of algorithms, of calculator tools, or computer tools will not be interpreted as satisfying part of the quantitative reasoning flag.

Global Cultures (1 flag)

Rationale: An educated graduate of the University of Texas must be aware of the ways that our state and nation fit into a global community, filled with different regional, national, and transnational cultures.

Catalogue text: Students must take one 3-hour course that meets the requirements of the Flag for Global Cultures.

Requirements or threshold: At least 50% of the testable content of the course should deal with the cultures, perspectives, and history of a non-U.S. cultural group, country, or coherent regional grouping of countries. A course can also fulfill this flag requirement if it deals with important current or historical themes dealing with large-scale cultural interaction. A course may also fulfill this flag requirement if it deals with important current or historical themes dealing with large-scale cultural interaction.

Multicultural perspectives and diversity (1 flag)

Rationale: An educated person must have an understanding of cultural diversity within our state and nation.

Catalogue text: Students must take one 3-hour course that meets the requirements for the Flag on multicultural perspectives and diversity.

Requirements or threshold: This Flag requires focused study of one or more of the United States’ diverse cultures. To fulfill the requirements of this Flag at least 50% of the testable content of the course should deal specifically with the cultures, perspectives, or history of one or more of the many minority cultures within the United States.

Ethics and Leadership (1 flag)

Rationale: To ensure that all students graduating from UT are aware of the range and importance of ethical choices and have acquired skills for thinking through practical ethical problems in a manner appropriate for those who will hold leadership positions. Pre-professional students graduating from UT should have a sense of professional responsibility, appropriate to their chosen profession, that includes a strong ethical commitment.

Catalog Text: Students must take one 3-hour course that meets the requirements for the Flag on ethics and leadership.

Requirements or Threshold: This course may be taught in any professional curriculum or as a stand alone ethics course. The course will introduce practical ethics in such a way that it bases at least 25% of the grade on work in practical ethics, i.e., the study of what is involved in making real-life ethical choices.

Independent Inquiry (1 flag)

Rationale: From our report: Independent inquiry (formulate, analyze, and independently investigate a problem and present findings)

Catalog Text: Students must take one 3-hour course that meets the requirements of the Independent Inquiry Flag.

Criteria for satisfying the Independent Inquiry flag: The independent inquiry flag can be satisfied either by an individual or group project or in a course. At least half of the content, time, and assessment must be based on the students’ independent investigation and presentation of their own work. The students work can be either original work or can be work judged by the faculty member as original to the students. In other words, if a student explores an idea that had previously been known, that would not exclude the work from satisfying the independent inquiry flag. The principal feature of a course or project that satisfies this flag is that the students should have the experience of doing substantial, independent work on a question or project and have the experience of presenting their original ideas.