Interdisciplinary Classes Available To Freshmen This Fall

Beginning this fall, freshmen will have the opportunity to take several classes that, in the spirit of Perspectives and PULSE, will incorporate two aspects of the Core Curriculum into one curriculum or two linked classes. These new courses for the 2015-16 school year will be pilot courses that are part of the ongoing effort to renew Boston College’s Core Curriculum.

The new classes, meant to instill incoming students with a sense of the importance of academic rigor and engagement with material, fall into two categories. First are the “complex problems” courses—lecture classes consisting of around 80 students that will be team-taught and will give students credit in two different disciplines. Second are the “enduring questions” courses—students will enroll in two linked classes, in which the teachers work together but the classes are distinct.

Though these pilot classes are just for freshmen, the hope is that all students will eventually take one “complex problems” class and one “enduring questions” class during their time at the University, Greg Kalscheur, the interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said.

The current core curriculum has been in place since 1991. In the spring of 2013, there was a movement to renew the core. The proposal has not yet been approved—Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley and University President William P. Leahy, S.J., must do so—but these pilot courses are part of the process of renewing the curriculum.

There will be two “complex problems” courses offered in the fall and one in the spring of next year, and three “enduring question” courses offered in the fall and three in the spring. One of the important ideas behind the core renewal is to focus on the integration of learning and to help students understand how what they are learning is important to their lives, Kalscheur said.

“The idea is to help students see how there are important questions about what it is to be a human that arise in different disciplines,” he said. “To have an adequate understanding of these questions, we need to have the perspective of different disciplines.”

Nursing professor Jane Ashley and English professor Laura Tanner have teamed up to teach linked classes in the “enduring questions” category. Together, their classes will focus on the human body. The professors will teach some shared texts in their separate courses, but the majority of their texts will remain discipline specific. Like all classes of this type, students will be required to enroll in both, and will receive credit for both disciplines.

“It is incredibly invigorating to dialogue with a partner about the goals of our classes, the potential texts we might use, and the pedagogical strategies we want to adopt,” Tanner said in an email. “Because we typically do this type of thinking alone, introducing another voice—and, in this case, a voice from a very different academic discipline—is very energizing.”

The pilot courses focus on the freshmen, Kalscheur explained, because it is important that students coming to the University have a sense of how important academic rigor and reflection is. Students coming to BC will have a sense of why the course material is important to how they live their lives, and how different disciplines work together to encourage deep thought about fundamental questions of the human condition, he said.

Pulse and Perspectives are the two current courses on campus that integrate two components of the core—theology and philosophy. The soon-to-be-introduced classes, however, will have a broader range of disciplines. The success of Pulse and Perspectives has given the University confidence that cross-disciplinary classes can work well, Kalscheur said.

The challenge moving forward will be to teach in a way that maximizes the strengths of the disciplines while also allowing professors to make connections and explore various pathways between the two subjects, Tanner said.

Ultimately, Kalscheur feels it is very important for students to be exposed to a wide variety of courses in many disciplines. This, he said, is a critical part of Jesuit education and something that the core renewal process emphasizes. Core classes ought to help students learn why the material they are learning is so important to them, he said.

“So, how are these courses helping students minds and hearts be opened to the fullness of what it is to be human?” he asked. “How do we make a connect between the material and how we live our lives?”

Featured Image by Alex Gaynor / Heights Senior Staff

April 16, 2015