Monday, March 25, 2019

Working Group Discusses Changes to the Curriculum

Amanda Hausmann ’21

News Editor 

Trinity College’s Curricular Reform Working Group is currently looking at a number of suggested changes to the College’s curriculum that in the future may be put into formal proposals for faculty to vote on. These suggestions include changing the number of credits required for graduation from 36 to 32, requiring students to complete two “experiential learning” units, eliminating the second-language requirement, requiring students to formulate an “interdisciplinary academic pathway,” and requiring students to complete a minor. Recently on Saturday, Feb. 23, the Working Group and other Trinity faculty met to discuss some of these suggested changes, however, the Working Group has yet to propose language for the College’s faculty to be able to vote on any changes.

According to the Working Group website, which all members of the Trinity community have access to through their Trinity credentials, there have not been any large-scale changes made to the College’s curriculum since 2007. In April of 2007, “the faculty adopted four additional general education requirements that took effect with the class entering in the fall of 2008,” the Working Group states on their website. The requirements are relatively similar to the general education distributions that were previously required, however the most prominent changes were the addition of the first-year seminar requirement and the second-language requirement. Professor of Physics and Environ- mentalScienceChristoph Geiss believes that making changes to the curriculum “every ten years or so sounds about right. You don’t want to change the curriculum every few years. I think one should also give a curriculum the chance to prove itself. That takes time.” Professor Jack Dougherty, a professor of Educational Studies and the director of CHER (Center for Hartford Engagement and Research) says, “I think it’s good for there to be thoughtful discussions about the curriculum. It is also important to re- member that if the goal for Trinity is to highlight our curriculum, there’s more than one policy tool to accomplish that goal. This means the College can use mandates, incentives, or capacity building to develop students’ abil- ity to do certain things.”

One of the most dramatically different changes suggested by the Working Group is the shift from a 36 credit graduation requirement to a 32 credit graduation requirement. According to the Working Group, “this proposal should be considered alongside the experiential require- ment and a reduced load of general education requirements. Students would normally be taking a four credit load in every semester over eight semesters.” Two questions posed below this suggested change ask if academic credit would still be given for TA-ships and if the College would continue to give academic credit for Physical Education. Dean of Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs Tim Cresswell says this suggestion came up when “the Inside and Outside the Classroom subcommittee of the strategic planning process recognized a number of problems with our current curriculum and suggested solutions.” One of the identified issues was “a concern that semesters in which students have to take five courses rather than four both limited the students to take ad- vantage of all that Trinity has to offer and led to a comparative lack of engagement in the classes themselves. They proposed reducing the minimum credits needed for graduation to 32 credits, in line with all but one of our NESCAC peers.”

Additionally, Dean Cresswell stated that the subcommittee identified issues related to “a lack of integration and reflection across the curriculum and a lack of equity in access of opportunities, particularly experiential education.” A solution addressing these issues lies in the suggested experiential learning requirement. On their website, the Working Group outlines this suggestion as requiring all students to fulfil two of the following: a course designated as Community Learning Initiative by the Office of Community Learning; a community learning experience either through the Community Action Integration Internship, the Liberal Arts Action Lab, or a Community Learning Research Fellowship; a community-based research with a faculty member; a community-learning experience undertaken in a study-away program. According to data posted on the Working Group website collected on the graduating classes between 2014 and 2018, 57% of Trinity students naturally fulfilled the experiential learning suggested requirement by completing at least two community-learning based experiences. However 30.3% of students only completely one requirement, and 11.9% of students completed zero experiential learning related units.

While there have not been any formal votes to realign the curriculum, Professor of Theater and Dance Mitchell Polin says, “I am hopeful that the faculty will vote on any potential changes to the curriculum near the end of the spring semester. However, there is significant discussion, debate, and review which must occur prior to any such vote.” Polin added that, at present, “we are now engaged with such a review and I am inspired by the passionate conversations taking place between faculty and students, across divisions, which are raising both exciting and important concerns.”

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