Starting this fall, basic curriculum requirements will change for undergraduates at the University of Kansas. As of now, each school – whether it is the School of Health Professions or the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences – sets its own requirements. Some are pretty extensive and specific. Each student might have to take the same basic math, or western civilization class, for example.
Some question the relevance of classes that aren't connected to their major.
“The classes I took - social sciences and humanities, and advanced English - I don’t know why we have to take that," said senior Kerolos Andrwes, a petroleum engineering major. "I would rather take engineering classes than humanities or social sciences. That’s what I’m interested in; it’s different for every person.”
On the other hand, sophomore Jami Bessey, a theatrical design major, said that all KU graduates benefit from a common knowledge base that stems from their course requirements.
“They should all know a basis…have a history, have an English, have a math, have a science because no matter what you’re in, it’s just common knowledge,” said Bessey. “You’re going to have to multiply your tax when you go out to eat, and maybe one day you’ll be on Jeopardy and need to know a random question. Stuff like that, you don’t want to be ignorant about.”
Still, Bessey wished she didn't have to take the same introduction to philosophy class as everyone else to meet her course requirements.
The new core curriculum does not require specific courses but allows students to take a wider range of classes that meet six overall goals: Communication, Critical Thinking and Quantitative Literacy, Culture and Diversity, Breadth of Knowledge, Social Responsibility and Ethics, and Integration and Creativity. Students can also use experiences such as internships, study abroad and independent research to meet certain requirements.
KC Currents’ Sylvia Maria Gross interviewed KU provost, Dr. Jeffrey Vitter, to hear how the new curriculum will change teaching and learning at the school.
On what prompted the university to change the core:
“What really convinced me that this was important was we had a set of requirements, but there was no link to an overarching rationale. We actually had…a set of learning outcomes, but there was no successful effort that actually linked those outcomes to an actual curriculum. So I wanted to start at the basics and make sure that we first asked the important question: What are we trying to do with our education? What do we want students to absolutely have? And let that drive the rest of, then, what is required in the curriculum.”
On how KU put together these learning outcomes:
“It was extremely important that we did this with bottom-up input. That we have every faculty member, staff, and student have the opportunity for direct input. We had every department meet and put forward suggestions for what learning goals and outcomes there should be. Once we had this huge list, and then we kind of combined different ways of wording the same idea, we asked those same departments to meet and determine for us the priorities of those goals and outcomes. And there was remarkable consensus of what came to the top in terms of the important educational goals.”
On the goal of Culture and Diversity:
“That educational goal has two components: one that is focused on diversity within the United States, understanding our historical origins, and the challenges and opportunities that we face with a multi-ethnic population. The other cultural, global understanding piece has to do with overseas, which is a crucial aspect of today’s where global is becoming more and more a driving force in business and economics and society, and giving students that opportunity to understand and work with other cultures is just a tremendous learning experience.”
On the critique that there are specific courses and criteria all educated people must know:
“Frankly, we have a whole lifetime and we’re not going to be able to learn all we should learn in our entire lifetime, so when you look at what should happen during four years of college, that’s why we went through this prioritization exercise. There are so many important things that would be great if students could experience them; we want to make sure they have the basics because they’re going to be changing careers multiple times in their lifetime. They’re going to be living for many many decades; we want to give them the foundation for how to learn because you cannot finish an education.”