CEP’s curricular innovations move forward

The Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) developed a host of curricular innovations that were presented to the faculty last May after Morton Owen Schapiro, president of the College, issued a challenge during his induction to “realize a vision of educational excellence worthy of our extraordinary resources.”

The faculty voted to adopt and implement seven of the twelve proposals, including the establishment of a study away Williams in New York program, increased interdisciplinary team teaching, increased experiential education, expansion of tutorials, adoption of writing and quantitative/formal reasoning requirements, and the reduction of the physical education requirement.

A year later, many of these curricular innovations are in the process of being implemented and integrated into the curriculum of the College.

“I’m very pleased that not only did the faculty – led by the CEP – move extraordinarily quickly last year in debating and approving a wide range of changes in what we teach and how we teach it, but there has been remarkable progress in implementation due to the very hard work of this year’s CEP,” said Schapiro.

To fund these curricular innovations and other components of the College’s strategic plan, which includes the current three building projects and the student life initiatives, the College is in the process of developing a comprehensive campaign that is currently in its early, silent phase.

“We are at the point where we are in conversations with a number of alumni concerning their interest in supporting the objectives of the strategic plan,” said Steve Birrell, vice-president for alumni relations and development. “It’s going to be months before we have concluded this particular phase of the campaign.”

Williams-in-New York

The most notable curricular innovation proposed by the CEP and passed by the faculty last year is the Williams-in-New York program. A subgroup of the CEP researched the New York-based programs of similar schools. Andrea Danyluk, associate professor of computer science and chair of the CEP, said that her committee has presented an initial “ideal vision” for the program to the Committee on Priorities and Resources (CPR). However, the final structure has not yet been determined.

“It is still in the planning process,” said Danyluk. “The CEP needs to do more work to define the curricular structure of the program.” Once the CEP finalizes their plan, the faculty will have to vote again to approve the program.

“In the meantime, we, together with CPR, have been working to define the resources that would have to be committed to the program,” said Danyluk. “This will be expensive, and the expense will need to be evaluated against other priorities at the College.”

“Williams-in-New York is part of a whole range of objectives that came out of the strategic plan that we are talking to the alumni about,” said Birrell. “Anyone recognizes that [Williams-in-New York] has some aspects that are a little more complicated than the other curricular objectives, where we are adding to the existing program.”

Interdisciplinary Team Teaching

Next year, two interdisciplinary, team-taught courses will be offered. “Minds, Brains and Intelligent Behavior: An introduction to Cognitive Science” will be taught by Kris Kirby, associate professor of psychology, and Joseph Cruz, assistant professor of philosophy.

In addition, Schapiro, a professor of economics, will team up with Nancy Roseman, dean of the College and associate professor of biology, and Peter Murphy, associate professor of English, to teach “Culture, Society and Disease,” which will examine the nature and importance of disease from biological, economic, and cultural perspectives.

“We are thrilled to be among the pioneers in preparing interdisciplinary seminars, and hope courses such as this one will be an ever increasing part of the College’s offerings,” said Schapiro. All three professors agreed that this interdisciplinary team approach is the only way for this subject to be fully studied.

“The class simply could not happen without the three of us contributing through the lens which our individual expertise creates,” said Roseman.

“Because of the breadth of the subject matter, it wouldn’t be possible [to teach this course] without a team of people from various disciplines,” said Murphy. “Together, I think we can look at the subject with some real breadth, the kind of breadth that allows for the beginnings of a real understanding of the true complexity of disease as a cultural phenomenon.”

Roseman also noted that interdisciplinary team teaching is very difficult and challenges not only the students, but the professors as well. “It is very hard work doing real interdisciplinary teaching,” she said. “I am going to have to become a better economist and English professor, and [Schapiro] is going to have to become a better biologist. The conversations we have when the three of us get together really stretch us, and I think the three of us are really looking forward to the class because in many ways, it is a fascinating experiment.”

According to Murphy, approximately 34 students have pre-registered for this course, which has an enrollment cap of 30 students.

“It should be fun as well as interesting,” said Murphy. “I think it will stretch all of us a little bit.”

Experiential Education

Another curricular initiative being implemented is increased experiential education, which will involve the hiring of a coordinator of experiential education for next year.

“There are a number of ‘experiential’ courses that have been offered for a while,” said Danyluk. “At this point, our part of the implementation has been to make sure someone can be hired to help faculty to incorporate experiential components into their courses.”

The CEP’s annual report states that “the role of the coordinator will be to facilitate the incorporation of experiential learning into Williams courses.” According to Danyluk, this new position has been approved and will be advertised this month. Stuart Crampton, Barclay Jermain professor of natural philosophy and professor of physics, has been teaching an experimental and cross-disciplinary course for the last two years, entitled “Science and the Religious Experience.”

“As a physicist and an active Episcopalian, this is a natural interest for me,” Crampton said. Last week, he was awarded a $10,000 grant by the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences’ Science and Religion Course Program, funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

“The $10,000 grant will be used to further develop course materials,” he said. Crampton and four students developed a CD-ROM last summer containing animated, interactive movies relating concepts from astronomy, physics and biology to religion and religious experiences.

“This summer a new WIT [Williams Instructional Technology] team led by one of last summer’s participants, Iskra Valtcheva ’03, will continue that work, expanding the chaos and quantum units and adding a unit on quantum electrodynamics,” Crampton said.

Crampton had previously taught a joint physics and philosophy course in the late ’80s along with three Winter Study courses on science and religion.

“My goals have been to make sense of the subject myself, develop a successful course and contribute to scholarship in the field,” he said. “Science and religion are merging into an interstitial discipline, but it is nevertheless still a challenge to do justice to both, especially in a one-semester course and with due respect for philosophy.

“There has not been a flood of interest, perhaps because the course may be viewed as irrelevant to mainstream science, religion and philosophy,” said Crampton. Thirteen students are enrolled in Crampton’s course this semester, which he believes is a great size for his class.

“I believe that if the word gets around, there will be about the right number again next spring,” he said.

Expansion of Tutorials

For the 2002-2003 academic year, the College is currently offering 36 tutorials, an increase of three from this year’s total of 33, according to the Registrar’s Office. However, the number of tutorials offered has increased dramatically since President Schapiro’s induction; only 21 tutorials were offered during the 2000-2001 academic year.

One major change in the tutorial system is that next year there will be a threefold increase, a rise from five to 15, in the number of tutorials offered at the introductory 100 and 200 levels.

According to Danyluk, the CEP encouraged the development of new tutorials through an increased number of summer stipends as well as a reminder from the Committee on Appointments and Promotions (CAP) that allocations of new faculty are not primarily dependent upon course enrollment.

Skills and Content Requirements

Two changes, which will take effect for the class of 2006 and beyond, is the adoption of two skills and content requirements whereby all students will be required to take two writing-intensive courses as well as one course in quantitative and formal reasoning.

Danyluk estimates that there will be approximately 80 courses designated as writing intensive and 30 quantitative and formal reasoning courses without prerequisites offered next year.

Physical Education Requirement

The final change in the curriculum adopted and the first one implemented was the reduction of physical education requirement from eight quarters to four quarters. This change was applied to all current students and took effect at the start of this academic year.

Though the implementation of the curricular innovations has been the focus of the CEP’s work this year, they have also been exploring other areas of the curriculum.

“In addition to implementation, the CEP has spent a good part of the year on programs,” said Danyluk. “There are a number of interdisciplinary programs here. . . Some of these offer majors. Others offer concentrations. We also have ‘clusters’ which are interdisciplinary but offer neither majors nor concentrations.”

Last February, the faculty approved the CEP’s proposals to define a structure for concentrations; have all of these programs fall under the general heading of “program” instead of the current “cluster” Designation; suggest that students consider declaring concentrations at the same time as their majors; and have regular reviews of programs offering concentrations and majors, similar to departmental reviews.

Danyluk added that new programs offering concentrations will be presented to the faculty for approval at tomorrow’s faculty meeting.