Curriculum Design

It’s always a good day when you get to tell scientists that they are being unscientific.

We are almost at the two year mark in a process of revising our core curriculum, and though it’s like trying to stop a runaway train, I have been asking annoying questions like “Why have a core curriculum?” So far I haven’t received any good answers.

Our current core curriculum is over a decade old and was never comprehensively assessed to see if it was meeting its specified learning Three Stoogesobjectives. The perceived need to replace this curriculum with something else derives from a vague sense of dissatisfaction held by faculty and administrators and the results of a survey of current students. No one has bothered to ask students who transferred out of the university, or students who were admitted but enrolled elsewhere, if the core curriculum played a role in their decisions. No one has paid much attention to alumni either. So from the very beginning there’s been sampling bias.

At this point it looks like we are eagerly replacing one fairly complex system with another complex system, and the components of that new system are completely untested. From my perspective it would be a lot more efficient to iteratively replace bits and pieces and test each change to see if it resulted in a better outcome.

Perhaps more troubling — from both a business and pedagogical perspective — is the mentality that regards students as empty vessels to be filled with knowledge that is poured out of a specific set of containers. If students who have to take five courses a semester for eight semesters can’t get a rigorous, diverse, and relevant education without being required to take a certain set of courses, then requiring them to take that set of courses probably isn’t going to solve the problem.

One thought on “Curriculum Design

  1. So are you saying that there is no need for “core” curriculum–because the curriculum should address issues like global persepctive, diversity, etc.? You have a point there. But why are you so angry??

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