Executive Summary on the Motion from Educational Policy on Changes to the Core Curriculum
What charge did Educational Policy receive regarding the Task Force Report?
In May of 2006, the Faculty Council Executive Committee charged Educational Policy with providing recommendations to the Faculty Council on the following aspects of the Task Force on Curricular Reform’s report: signature courses, courses required of all students as part of the state-mandated 42-hour core curriculum, flagged courses, and thematic strands.
What information was used by Educational Policy in crafting its motion?
The following was reviewed by a subcommittee of Educational Policy, chaired by Marilla Svinicki, this summer before the final motion was crafted:
- The Original Task Force Report
- The Supplementary Task Force Report
- Transcripts from the faculty forums in the various Schools and Colleges
- Transcripts from Faculty Council meetings where the task force recommendations were discussed
- Email comments sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. This email was established by the Faculty Council to allow faculty to comment on the report.
- The motion crafted by the Senate of College Councils
- The Report of the Academic Counselors’ Association
- The Report of the Student Deans Committee.
What are the main differences between the motion of Educational Policy and the original and Supplementary Task Force Reports?
A list of the main differences appears below:
- The topics of “Culture” and “Nature” were removed from the Signature Courses.
- The goal of the Freshman Signature Course was changed to have students discuss and analyze an important contemporary issue from an interdisciplinary perspective.
- The Sophomore Signature Course’s goal was changed to look at an issue from a narrower interdisciplinary focus such that the course fit within an existing area requirement.
- The Signature Courses were redesigned to allow more flexibility on the part of faculty to develop such courses. The areas in which flexibility is given is class size, how Interdisciplinarity is achieved, and how communication is emphasized in the class.
- The flagged courses are the same as those proposed in the original Task Force Report. The descriptions of the criteria for a flagged course has been modified from those proposed in the Supplementary Report.
- The Natural Science Requirement in the state-Mandated 42-hour Core Curriculum has been expanded to allow a course on Science and Technology to be used. The nature of this course is consistent with the original vision outlined in the Task Force Reports.
Why is 35% of the course grade used for the following flags: Writing, Global Cultures, Cultural Diversity in the United States, Ethics and Leadership, and Independent Inquiry?
This percentage was selected by Educational Policy as a balance to many competing factors. First, we felt it was important that a student should not pass a flagged course without showing some competence in the skill or experience for which the course was flagged. Second, the criteria for the flag needed to be such that an instructor has the flexibility to cover other content important in the course and not have to sacrifice this in order to satisfy the flag requirement. Lastly, Educational Policy believes that one course could cover more than one flag. Using 35% allows a course to have two flags (possibly three if writing is one of them).
Why is the Science and Technology Course not required for all UT undergraduate students?
While Educational Policy hopes that many degree plans at UT will add a Science and Technology course for their students, the decision to make this course an elective was based upon two main factors. First, many science and technology degree plans satisfy the spirit of a Science and Technology Course in their regular course work. As such, they should be able to continue to educate their students as they do now. The second main factor is that degree plans may have a justifiable reason for requiring nine hours of traditional science courses to best prepare their students for their future careers. Again, these degree plans should have the flexibility to make the determination about whether this new courses or a traditional science course is in their students’ best interest.
The Commission of 125 believed that students benefit from studying some common academic topics and concepts to add richness to discussions and debates outside the classroom and to create a bond among graduates. They also believed that current curriculum lacks sufficient common intellectual experiences shared by all undergraduates, whatever their discipline. How does this proposal from Educational Policy address this?
The ideal way to address this concern might be to have certain specific courses that all students are required to take. However, Educational Policy believes that this approach at a university with the size and diversity of UT is impractical. In addition, we believe that there is merit in giving students choices on how to get the knowledge, skills, and experience they need for their career and personal goals. Nonetheless, we believe that the recommendations of the committee go substantially in the direction of meeting the Commission's recommendation. First, the Signature courses create a "special" type of course that has a common focus on using an interdisciplinary approach to examine a topic of broad interest. This commonality lends itself well to discussions outside the classroom between students in different Signature courses. The lecture/performance series connected to the Freshman Signature Course also provides common experiences that can help create the type of bond we are seeking. Second, the flags also serve to create common experiences that extend beyond the individual classroom. For example, every undergraduate will be required to take a course including a substantial ethics component. Since there are commonalities in ethical considerations across fields, this will provide common background and experience to prompt and enrich discussions of ethics in dorms and other places where undergraduates gather.