By Jacqueline deVries, Director of General Education, and John Zobitz, Interim Director of General Education
Avid readers of the Echo may be wondering what has prompted Professor Mark Tranvik (Religion) to write two op-ed pieces about the place of religion requirements in the general education curriculum at Augsburg. If you’ve been reading closely, you might be wondering whether your degree requirements are about to change. This article aims to shed light on that question. Dr. Tranvik has been responding to an ongoing (now 18-month) process among the faculty to revise the general education curriculum – that is, to redo those “requirements” that students must fulfill in order to earn a degree from this institution (i.e. the “LAFs,” “Graduation Skills,” and “Signature Curriculum.”) He – and many others – have strong opinions about what should be a part of an Augsburg education, which is what makes curriculum reform both interesting and hard. This article will not respond directly to Dr. Tranvik’s arguments – we hope to do that through face-to-face discussion – but here we will provide some basic information about why we’re doing this and what to expect.
One role of the faculty at an institution such as this is to provide governance over the curriculum. Departments decide the requirements for each major, but the faculty collectively work out the details of the core requirements. The Academic Affairs Committee (AAC), on which there is a student representative, approves small curriculum changes. Big ones (like core requirements) must be approved by the entire faculty, since they affect nearly every faculty and student. So, in light of the potential disruption in curriculum change, you might ask:
Why are we doing this? Since the last curriculum overhaul fifteen years ago, much has changed – students, pedagogical approaches, and the world around us. (Just think, in 2002, there was no Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat, and that’s just the beginning ….) Here are some other reasons:
Aspirational: We seek to build on the strengths of our current General Education curriculum by creating more opportunities for interdisciplinary inquiry, collaborative and experiential learning, and applied problem-solving in order to close the gap between learning and doing. We are designing a curriculum that will “prepare students to think and act across the boundaries of ideas, value, and disciplinary perspectives”
Accessible: With this revision, we aim to simplify and (slightly) reduce the requirements, so that students can better understand why they must take core requirements and have a higher chance of completing their degree in four years.
Alignment: Since the last revision, Augsburg has changed its name, adopted a new mission statement, and devised new institutional learning outcomes. This revision aims to bring the curriculum into alignment with the lofty goals stated in that mission – so that you will indeed leave here as “informed citizens, thoughtful stewards, critical thinkers, and responsible leaders.”
Aside from Augsburg’s mission statement, is there an underlying vision to this curriculum overhaul?
It aims to provide opportunities for student engagement with “integrative liberal learning.” That is “edu-speak” for learning that fosters curiosity, connections, creativity, and skills at problem-solving in diverse and changing environments. Hence, part of the proposed core includes a two-course sequence (currently titled “First Year Seminar: Questioning our World” and “Mid-level Seminar: Designing the Future”) that emphasizes interdisciplinary, collaborative, and applied problem-solving in order to close the gap between learning and doing.
Traditionally in the academy, we have kept formal academic instruction separate from applied learning experiences – e.g. we may teach about political participation, but we don’t have students do it. Experiential education aims to close that gap. But too often we cordon off experiential education into an internship or study abroad, rather than integrating it into course design (which is what we intend to do in the proposed new curriculum.)
What will change? When will it change? How will this affect me? The faculty are still working out the details and are not likely to approve any major changes until late next fall 2018. Any new curriculum cannot be rolled out until Fall 2020. The bottom line is this: if you’re already enrolled, any changes to the core requirements will not affect you.
How can you get involved? The General Education Design Team has already met with several focus groups of students to talk about specific areas of the curriculum and hear their concerns. Next fall, when we have a more fully developed proposal, we plan to engage more student focus groups. We will work with student government to facilitate that process. If you have particular concerns or would like to volunteer your services, please send a note to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article first appeared in the Friday, April 20 edition of The Echo.