Committee Must Improve Core Classes, Preserve Goal
BC Must Ensure That Professors Are Educated On And Keep In Mind The Philosophy Of The Core
Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 14, 2013 00:03
Boston College’s core renewal committee, after spending almost a year collecting information, is ready to begin planning what the future of the core will look like. Among other things, the committee has decided that the core must become more interdisciplinary and engaging for both students and faculty—possibly using the Perspectives program as a model.
The core was last updated in 1991, and the only truly interdisciplinary initiative to come out of that renewal was the Perspectives program. This program has been incredibly successful in the time since its creation. According to data collected by the committee, students have expressed that they get more out of interdisciplinary courses, and, when commenting on other team-taught or linked courses that BC has offered in the past, often stated that they appreciated having the opportunity to learn from two professors in a single course. This feedback has encouraged the committee to use Perspectives as a model on which to base the new interdisciplinary courses it will be creating in the coming weeks.
An interdisciplinary approach will provide students with more options to take courses that they find genuinely interesting. Material will be presented from a wider variety of perspectives, allowing students to understand it on a deeper level. A common complaint among students is that their core courses are too easy or not academically engaging. They sometimes find that going to class is not essential in order to learn the material and therefore feel that the core is a waste of time. Combining disciplines, therefore, can make courses challenging enough that students are not only feeling challenged, but also interested in what they are learning. Creating courses at different levels to accommodate students’ varying levels of interest and current knowledge will also help ensure that students are actively engaged in their educations.
Providing students with courses that challenge them and make them think more critically also sends a message that students can handle a wide variety of topics and concepts. An interdisciplinary course that combines science and economics, for example, says that students are capable of understanding formulas and mathematical concepts that go beyond basic calculations. Professors do not have to “dumb down” the material, but rather can teach at a level appropriate for BC undergraduates, because students who sign up for this particular interdisciplinary course are indicating that they have some level of proficiency in these areas. Students must understand the information that is being presented to them, but they must also feel that this information is relevant and thought-provoking.
Most importantly, however, the committee should ensure that professors fully understand the goals of the core and are held to its standards. BC’s professors are experts in their fields who often specialize in a specific aspect of it. While they should be encouraged to integrate these specialties into their core courses, they must keep in mind that the goal of the core is to provide students with a broad understanding of the field. Becoming too specific or too technical will obscure this purpose. Professors should therefore keep the overall purpose of the core—to provide students with a broad educational base and the ability to speak intelligently about a number of academic topics—in mind when designing and teaching their courses. The core committee must consistently review the curricula of these courses so that the core remains meaningful for students.
Many students also complain that different professors vary greatly in content and difficulty across a particular core course. These courses that have a more general survey focus should be standardized within their respective departments. Professors would have the freedom to teach the material in whatever way they choose and still have time within the semester or year to teach other material they find relevant. Keeping the curriculum mostly standardized across sections of a particular course, however, will ensure that students are gaining a solid educational foundation in a particular discipline. This uniformity will also help students connect to fellow classmates with divergent interests from their own, creating more opportunities for academic conversation across campus.
The core renewal process is understandably very complex, and discussion about how the core courses should be designed are only just beginning. These courses will be available to incoming freshmen for the fall 2013 semester. Given that these new students will be the first to experience the redesigned core, the committee has the opportunity to begin a completely new era of academic excellence at BC.