Faculty collaborate on new curriculum

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January 30, 2015

12:20 AM

In less than a year, the College Curriculum will replace the current GER system. Incoming freshmen will begin their studies as the first class to enter under the new program.

When the College of William and Mary’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences approved the COLL system in December 2013, the Center for the Liberal Arts was created with four original fellows to help the College prepare for the curriculum change. This fall, four more fellows were added.

Since last spring, the Center for the Liberal Arts has been holding events — including one-on-one conversations with professors and department retreats — to facilitate discussion and development of the incoming system.

“We’ve been active for a little over a year as fellows, trying to move the curriculum forward,” Center for the Liberal Arts Fellow Bruce Campbell said. “We’re there as conversation partners, holding brown bags, retreats, faculty talks and demonstrations about pieces of the puzzle.”

The Center for the Liberal Arts also held several May seminars focused on designing sample syllabi for new courses. The first group of classes to premiere will be the COLL 100s, since the entering freshmen will be the first class affected by the new general education requirements.

“The COLL 100s are these big ideas courses that are meant to get students excited about the concept of broad-based inquiry,” Center for the Liberal Arts Fellow John Riofrio said. “Something like a COLL 100 is pretty new for faculty here. It tries to get faculty to think beyond the traditional essay.”

The COLL 100s will be taken in addition to freshman seminars, with more of a focus on different types of communication with wider areas of research.

“The COLL 100s will be extensive on a big idea, often beyond the professor’s area of expertise,” Center for the Liberal Arts Fellow Paul Mapp said. “They’re designed to stretch us and push us beyond what we’re already doing.”

Fellows said one of the major differences between the COLL system and the GERs is the new focus on interdisciplinary classes aimed to create a broader spectrum of learning.

“It’s different than the GER system in that the GERs are kind of a menu of courses, so you can take them in whatever order you want and they cover seven general areas,” Riofrio said.

COLL courses will be taken in sequential order: The COLL classes come in three levels after the 100s, designed to occur each year. The 200s are meant to focus more on interdisciplinary studies, the 300s focus on international knowledge and can be replaced by study abroad programs, and the 400s occur within majors and act as the traditional senior seminar. The COLL 200s will come in three knowledge domains: Arts, Letters and Values; Culture, Society and the Individual; and Numerical and Quantitative Reasoning. Classes are not discipline-specific to encourage collaboration and overlap between departments.

Faculty members are collaborating to create new classes and modify old ones to fit the new curriculum. Several pilot courses ran this semester and more will take place next semester.

“I’m going to be teaching one of the COLL 100 courses next year,” Mapp said. “So I’m trying to learn from what other people are doing now and trying to develop my own course.”

The COLL system will continue its development next semester, led by the Center for the Liberal Arts fellows, as professors prepare classes for incoming freshmen.

“We’ve got a system that’s been in place for close to twenty years, and we’re going to change it completely,” Campbell said. “ Having said that, this creates a very productive type of friction that energizes us.”

Some students have already participated in COLL pilot courses, some of which were offered last semester.

Margaret Strolle ’15 said she enjoyed her COLL pilot course, Victorian Animal Dreams taught by Professor Deborah Morse.

“The literature/animal rights combination was very interesting and made me discover themes in literature that I otherwise might not have seen,” Strolle said in an email. “I definitely was aware that it was a lot more interdisciplinary than other classes I had taken. It was not a subject I usually would take but I am very glad that I did.”

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  • Emily Wynn