April 4, 2012

A decade later, curriculum may be reviewed

Concerns amongst the faculty regarding the decade-old academic curriculum have sparked motivation for a systematic review of the program.

Dean of the College Lawrence Brietborde addressed the differences between the previous curriculum and the one currently in place, specific concerns regarding the latter and future plans to maintain a curriculum that properly prepares students for post-graduation success.

“I think what most people mean by that is looking at our general education program, which is a fancy term for graduation requirements. … What do we think every student, regardless of their major, ought to do?” Breitborde said.

The current curriculum was put into effect between 2001 and 2002; the 10-year anniversary of the program was influential in and of itself. Breitborde supports the faculty’s movement for review.

“There is this sense, and I share it, that has bubbled up among the faculty that it’s really time to take a look at if what we put in place ten or so years ago is working,” Breitborde said.

Faculty members have also taken input from students as to which aspects of the curriculum require attention and potential revamping. However, Breitborde is hesitant in making any lasting changes without reviewing the data assembled by the Office of Institutional Research and Development.

“Faculty … may have an advisee who thinks that a certain requirement is worthless, or had trouble satisfying a requirement … The position I’ve taken with the faculty is that you don’t change the curriculum by anecdote,” Breitborde said. “We’re in a position now to begin to assess what’s happened with these requirements.”

The first step will be to analyze patterns of student enrollment as well as other pertinent data.

“I’ve suggested that we should do as much as we can this year to find out what’s actually going on, and what the patterns are, and that will go into next year as well. Then we can say, here’s an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of our current program; now let’s talk about changes and potential changes, rather than just thinking of changes out of thin air,” Breitborde said.

The curriculum in place prior to the current one was in place for close to 30 years, largely unchanged save occasional fine-tuning by the faculty. The old curriculum included freshman preceptorial as well as advanced preceptorial, which Breitborde described as “a senior level interdisciplinary course revolving around a major theme.”

Another major difference was the presence of distribution requirements, which were replaced by foundations.

“When we made the transition to foundations, we said, are there certain courses that not only speak to prospective majors, but if this is the only course that a student is going to take in this field, will they really understand how it works,” Breitborde said.

The key competencies requirements were also introduced with the new curriculum. The reason behind them was to clarify and enumerate the skills students were expected to hone prior to graduation.

“You can see the connections between what we had before and what we have now, but in some cases what we have now is making explicit what people talked about in general ways and didn’t really require in the past,” Breitborde said.

Several aspects of the new curriculum are garnering more calls for review than others. Foundations, writing as a key competency, the educational plan and the experiential learning requirement have been discussed as facets of the curriculum that require review.

“In foundations, you take at least one designated foundations course in each of the four areas. Some people think that’s not enough, well maybe it’s not, but before we go changing anything maybe we should look at the pattern of enrollments of students over the last ten years. There is some evidence that suggests, and I don’t want to do it by anecdote either, that students are taking more than the minimum requirement in each area,” Breitborde said.

Difficulties distinguishing writing ability with grades received in writing intensive courses have fueled desire for a new system of gauging student writing ability independently of grading.

“When faculty grade those courses, writing is part of the grade, but there is this sense sometimes … I can’t give them a grade that just reflects their level of understanding of the course material because their writing isn’t good. We lump them together under the same grade, and that’s problematic for some faculty and some students too,” Breitborde said.

Both the educational plan and the experiential learning aspects of the curriculum are not living up to expectations, as students delay the completion of these requirements and fail to incorporate them wholly into their time at Knox.

“There has been a lot of concern expressed by faculty over the years about the educational plan, if that’s busy work or if it could be made stronger, how to make it a more meaningful requirement. The other area is experiential learning … what’s the level of reflection that the student is required to do on their project and is this really as meaningful and significant in their educational experience as it could be?” Breitborde said.

The review process will occur with coordination between the curriculum committee, a standing faculty committee and the student body.

“It will involve faculty and students as just about everything we do here does,” Breitborde said.

Julian Boireau
Julian Boireau is a senior majoring in international relations and minoring in French. This is his fourth year working for TKS, having served as co-news editor during his sophomore and junior years. He has been involved in journalism for seven years, serving as opinions editor of the newspaper and editor-in-chief of the literary magazine at Palisades Charter High School in Los Angeles, California. In September 2012, Julian received press credentials to attend the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City, where he reported on remarks by President Barack Obama and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. He is also the recipient of back-to-back first place awards from the Illinois College Press Association for front page layout.

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