Creating Curricular Coherence through Inquiry-Based Curricula and Thematic Pathways
Higher education institutions face the challenge of creating efficient and cohesive educational experiences for students that integrate academic learning, civic engagement, and preparation for life after college. Project Pericles and a cohort of Pericleans (Macalester College, Morehouse College, and Widener University) are exploring unique, but allied, approaches to creating streamlined and integrative curricular pathways within majors, interdepartmental initiatives, and college-wide general education requirements. This three-year project is part of The Teagle Foundation’s Faculty Planning and Curricular Coherence initiative and is also supported by the Eugene M. Lang Foundation.
Project Pericles is facilitating inter-institutional collaboration across these partner campuses as well as our network of member institutions. The three campuses and Project Pericles meet on a regular basis to collaborate, to provide feedback, and to exchange information.
Lessons from the initiative will be shared with our member institutions and higher education more generally. In July, all Periclean campuses will be invited to a convening, where we will discuss insights and best practices on curricular organization, streamlining, and institutional change.
Macalester is creating civic engagement pathways within two academic departments (Geography and History), as models for other departments and as a foundation for broader institutional change. The project supports the development of sequenced course offerings paired with increasingly advanced community-based opportunities and highlights the public purposes of disciplinary learning. By focusing on change within departments rather than individual courses, the project creates more effective and efficient pedagogy and allows students to design more coherent academic careers. Staff from Macalester’s Civic Engagement Center are working intensively with faculty members to map and assess learning goals, create pathways, and document best practices for replication at other institutions.
Macalester has undertaken a year-long process of reviewing the curriculum in the Geography and History departments, reviewing all courses, and conducting research on best practices for integrating civic engagement. They formed a community of practice comprised of faculty from the two departments holding a daylong “deep dive” and regular meetings. Interviews were conducted with all members of the Geography department. In addition, the History department has moved to completely revise its approach to the curriculum based on thematic pathways. This will serve as a replicable example for other departments as they join the Community of Practice at Macalester.
Morehouse is transforming a large general education program. Their redesigned “general education integrative learning experience” focuses on the African Diaspora and six other learning outcomes. Morehouse approved and started implementing in Fall 2018 an entirely revised and streamlined set of general education requirements that combine learning outcomes from 11 to 7 and reduce required general education credit hours from 53-59 to 32-46. The project involves a challenging process of gaining approval for this large-scale undertaking and of redesigning courses to meet the new requirements.
Morehouse is building on three years of work reviewing their general education program. During the first year of the grant, a general education committee comprised of faculty members revised plans for the new program, worked with departments to develop course proposals to meet the new requirements, and reviewed course proposals to ensure that they are in sync with the new learning outcomes. Morehouse held faculty development workshops to assist faculty in revising their courses and to bring the courses in line with the new general education program.
In addition to a shared focus on the African Diaspora, courses will be integrated through five learning outcomes, as well as themes of "social justice, equity, and servant-leadership" within all divisions. "As a result of completing the program, students will be stronger in the following areas:
Widener University is developing a new Sustainability and Civic Engagement pathway with links to general education requirements and courses in a variety of majors. The pathway introduces more coherent curricular options within Widener’s existing general education distribution system and thus, a more cohesive experience for students. The pathway model supports an interdisciplinary, inquiry-based approach employing multiple high-impact practices. The pathway network of courses features a freshman seminar, multiple approved pathway courses across nine academic departments, and an option for an interdisciplinary capstone experience. Widener is developing this thematic pathway approach with an eye to replication at Widener and at other colleges and universities.
If successful, this pilot program in 2020 will feature a coherent array of well-attended, sustainability and civic engagement-focused courses that students can apply toward fulfillment of general education requirements. Completing this particular pathway will benefit students by providing a greater understanding of the interconnectedness of environmental, ecological, social, political, and economic systems, while also encouraging calls for intergenerational respect and stewardship. Promoting participation in this program through workshops and incentives will additionally benefit interested faculty members by offering demonstrable support for their efforts, while also furthering cross-disciplinary collaborations and information sharing.
The initiative will further enhance Widener’s institution-wide commitment to sustainability and should promote greater curricular/co-curricular integration toward fostering stronger relationships with community partners in the City of Chester, the greater Philadelphia metropolitan region, and in Widener’s global hubs in Costa Rica and China.