Some of you may remember many eons ago, in those halcyon days pre-pandemic, that UP’s Academic Senate approved a “revitalized University Core Curriculum.” It was approved, to be specific, in November of 2019 after several years of gathering input and information, committee work, and consultation with departments across the UP community. The intention was and is to phase in the revitalized Core for entering students in the Fall of 2021. The purpose of this post is to update the UP community on where the Core revitalization process stands and on plans for moving forward.
First, a number of people have asked whether it even makes sense to proceed with implementation plans given the extraordinary circumstances of our present academic life. This is a reasonable question. UP’s academic leadership is, however, in favor of moving forward for a variety of reasons.
For one, a University Core Curriculum is a very slow moving thing that impacts all student academic experiences and requires years to revise. The UP Core was last substantively revised over 20 years ago, and our recent revitalization process is now in year 4 of a projected 8 year cycle. To stop or delay now would put much important work, and the quality of the Core, at serious risk.
Relatedly, the Core does need to be updated. Our Core is behind the academic times in regard to coverage of key topics such as diversity, equity, inclusion, and racial justice, and our Core often lacks the sense of communal, progressive, and intentional intellectual endeavor that is essential to a quality liberal arts education. The prior Core has served UP well, and offers many excellent classes, but after 20 years it needs revitalization.
At the same time, there is a clear recognition that the Core revitalization cannot proceed as it would in “normal” academic times. As we push forward, we are also actively thinking about ways to keep forward momentum without unrealistic asks of faculty and staff. We want to be in communication about what is realistic, and we are happy to compromise.
As one example, in trade for some advance planning for the start of phased implementation in the Fall of 2021 we are working to minimize (and in most cases eliminate) Core assessment exercises this 2020-2021 academic year. We will still ask people to help lay a foundation for effective assessment of the Core in the future – but given the circumstances it seems unnecessary to assess a Core that is being phased out during such as challenging year. As we push forward with the revitalization process, we’ll continue to actively find such compromises in ways that balance the quality of the future Core with the real human needs of faculty and staff.
So, what is the future of the revitalization process? One feature of the revitalized Core is a series of progressive levels for Core courses.
For the Fall of 2021, our plan is to only start the Anchor Seminar and the new Foundation Level. Because the Foundation Level is largely comprised of courses in the current Core, the new work should be minimal for most faculty and academic staff – mostly involving new student learning outcomes that can guide course organization towards consistency and coherence with a new set of six “Habits of Heart and Mind” that should be the result of a UP education. We will also be identifying approximately eight regular faculty to teach sections of the new Anchor Seminar. We hope to identify these faculty this Fall of 2020 so that departments have time to plan for the one course a faculty members gives up to teach in the Anchor Seminar. More information about teaching the new Anchor Seminar will be forthcoming.
The next phase of revitalized Core implementation for the 2022-2023 academic year will be the new “Exploration Level” courses. While the Foundation Level courses will come exclusively from CAS as UP’s liberal arts college, Exploration level courses can come from any college or professional school – as long as the courses employ a liberal arts lens. We’ll be sharing much more information about these courses over time, and will have opportunities to intentionally plan course possibilities in the 2021-2022 academic year run-up to implementation.
The final phase of revitalized Core implementation will likely start in 2023-2024 with the new integration assignment (the completion of a portfolio) in collaboration with majors. By the Fall semester of 2024, all students should be taking the revitalized Core and the current Core will be completely phased out.
We have many practical questions to deal with within this implementation timeline, and will try to provide more regular updates here and elsewhere on the UP website. if you have specific questions please reach out to me in my role as the new Core Curriculum Director – email@example.com. As one near-term update priority, I am putting together a document outlining key differences between the current Core and the revitalized Core in hopes that will facilitate advising and discussions about transfer credits. I hope to post something about that here, and elsewhere, soon.
I also appreciate any follow-up questions; the essence of my job as Core Director is to generate collaborative ideas about how to make sure the revitalized Core fits our shared mission, builds on faculty expertise, and enhances the educational experience of our students!
This essay by Dr. Brad Franco, Associate Professor of History at UP, is part of a series of short pieces that offer faculty across the campus an insider’s tour of one of the courses that make up UP’s Core program. Since the Core involves almost a third of the curriculum for every UP student, faculty can benefit from these discipline-by-discipline essays, to better understand the breadth of their students’ campus experience.
Undergraduates at the University of Portland are required to take one history class as part of the university core. There is great diversity in what students can take, as all 200 and 300 level history classes satisfy the core requirement.
At first blush, having such a broad requirement might seem deeply problematic, as it means that students are studying wildly different topics to fulfill the same prerequisite. Indeed, we offer core classes that span five continents and three millennia; some of these classes emphasize social and cultural history, others focus more on gender, identity, and race, while still others are more oriented toward political or military history.
With such a wide range of core course offerings, one might wonder what students, regardless of which course they take, gain from the core history requirement. To begin, students gain an understanding of what the discipline of history actually is and why it matters. Dispiritingly, many of our students enter their first college history class still believing that history is rooted in memorizing names and dates or in learning about famous battles. Instead, our goal as a department, collectively, is to help students recognize that the value of history, like all disciplines in the humanities, is to help us better understand human nature, human societies, and the present.
Whether one studies the ancient world, early modern Europe, or modern America, to cite some of the subfields within which we offer classes, history provides endless insights about humans and societies that are directly applicable to understanding our world today. For example, any history class within the core will provide students with a greater understanding of how power functions, particularly at the institutional or societal level.
Closely connected to this, students learn the role of culture in shaping societal values and beliefs, the fluidity of gender norms and how they are used to regulate behavior, how societies “other” minority groups, reasons societies go to war, as well as how propaganda works.
The examples that we use to elucidate these topics (and many others) obviously varies dramatically depending on the focus of each course. For example, students studying medieval Europe, learn how “othering” was used to justify wars against religious minorities, ethnic groups, and even fellow Christians (as heretics). While the marginalization of minority groups as a means of strengthening one’s political power certainly looks different in a modern context (or even a pre-modern context), the use of such strategies can be found in nearly every society. Similarly, speeches from the Peloponnesian War (which led to the fall of the first democratic government in history in Athens) demonstrate how demagogues undermine public debate and the democratic process through misinformation, undermining political opponents, using emotional appeals, fear, and othering.
While these debates took place in a world very different from our own, the lessons that can be learned from studying these ancient speeches are remarkably applicable to anyone living in a democracy today. In fact, more broadly, one of the crucial insights that history offers is that nearly all human societies face many of the same kinds of challenges. By studying the past, we can glean all kinds of relational insights about our own world related to issues of justice, power, gender, culture, authority, and more.
In effect, the core history requirement offers students a set of lenses that offer access to entire other worlds full of answers to our own struggles and challenges today. The study of history makes students more curious about learning by exposing them to all kinds of new ideas and ways of thinking about the world that often, they didn’t even know existed.
Moving beyond any specific insights, historical inquiry promotes (or even requires) critical thinking and reading. Analyzing primary sources created in societies with different values and cultural beliefs than our own is extremely challenging because it requires students to move beyond their own worldview and value system. Students must learn to identify authorial intent and bias, and consider questions of genre, audience, and historical context before they can determine what particular primary sources reveal about the society in which they were written.
Closely connected to this, all core history classes help students to become better writers. While college writing is certainly part of many core classes, history papers present the unique challenge of requiring students to practice using primary source material as their evidence. They quickly discover the challenges of recovering the past (as we are limited by the sources that survive and the information or perspective these sources provide). This practice of analyzing evidence (written for a very different audience living in a radically different historical context) to create an argument and then write a persuasive paper rooted in the available evidence helps them to hone a set of skills that will be useful throughout the students’ lives.
In sum, the history core requirement opens students’ eyes to the importance of the past and its value in helping them make sense of our world; it makes them more intellectually curious; it helps them improve their critical thinking skills and become more effective writers. These are just some of the many things students gain from the core history requirement.
-Dr. Brad Franco
This essay by Dr. Stephanie Salomone, Associate Professor and Chair of Mathematics at UP, is part of a series of short pieces that offer faculty across the campus an insider’s tour of one of the courses that make up UP’s Core program. Since the Core involves almost a third of the curriculum for every UP student, faculty can benefit from these discipline-by-discipline essays, to better understand the breadth of their students’ campus experience.
Way back when my boys were 3, 5, and 8, I took them to a community event in Cathedral Park that was focused on saving the Willamette River. From what, I didn’t know, but we were promised food carts and bubbles and that was all I needed to say to convince the littles that we should go check it out.
The St. John’s Bubble Guys were there, and were surprisingly grumpy about all the children running around popping bubbles, which made no sense. It was as if they expected to show up at a community gathering, where children would be gleefully enjoying the sunshine, and those same kids would keep their hands off the hundreds of bubbles floating around. It was as if the Bubble Guys had never met children. It was as if the Bubble Guys had never been children.
This was an event with a message, though, and so while the boys romped in the grass under the St. Johns Bridge, I checked out the booths. Beyond the elephant ears and the face painting, there this claim: we have polluted our waterway with shipping, with manufacturing, and with the detritus that comes from being a modern human. It was a stark contrast to the message the kids were sending: we are joyful, free, and happy to be bursting these bubbles.
Eventually, the Master of Ceremonies got on the makeshift stage, and into the mic he shouted, “The Willamette River is 95% polluted,” and yes, that sounded really alarming. It also sounded totally unbelievable.
I wondered so many things.
Did they take 100 samples from a single spot and 95 of them had some level of pollution in them? Or maybe 100 samples from different spots? If they did that, did they account for the fact that the water is moving? Does this matter? How many samples did they take? How many samples is enough to make that kind of claim, and how would I test their claim? What would make this result replicable? Do they mean by volume? If I pulled out 100 gallons of water, would 95 gallons be not water but actual pollutants? No. That can’t be. There are fish in the Willamette, though I wouldn’t eat them. But they’re alive, and there is no way they could survive if the river were 95% pollutant by volume. What is the threshold for any sample to be considered “polluted”?
If the claim is true, what are we going to do about it, and maybe more importantly, who is “WE”? Even if the claim is only a half-truth, something needs to be done, and when I considered the kinds of people I’d want looking at and for solutions, I decided that the solvers would need confidence in asking tough questions and discerning what questions to ask in the first place. They would need strong problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. They would need to question claims and parse and evaluate evidence. They would need to take risks, and be willing to be wrong, and they would have to be the strongest of communicators, so that once they found a solution (or maybe many solutions) they could convince even the harshest skeptics that they’d done it.
Children, in their way, are great at this. They’re natural question-askers and information-seekers. They challenge authority (or at least, my boys do), and because so many things are novel to them, they try new things all the time without worrying so much about doing it right the first time. Children wonder and they ask why, and why, and why because their curiosity about how things work is never sated. Children aren’t great communicators, but they are malleable, and can be trained to be polite. To explain their thinking. To reason. And to do so with the same glee that they show us when they’re running after bubbles.
This is not to imply that I anticipate that children will solve major environmental crises, but that they have the right mindset to do so.
In the core mathematics courses, our focus is simultaneously on content and mindset. We can empower students to know statistics and calculus, but we can also train them to apply concepts and to leverage their knowledge to solve difficult and perhaps critical problems. We want our students to see that struggling with mathematical concepts is normal and temporary, and that we believe that they will succeed.
Students succeed when they can look in disbelief at quantitative claims, and demonstrate willingness to seek to prove or disprove them. Mathematics students find patterns, take large problems apart into smaller ones, and then combine solutions to the small problems to solve the whole. In the core, we help students establish a learning community, and to ask how they can use their considerable strengths (even, perhaps especially, the nonmathematical ones) to succeed in a world that is more and more dependent on data and technology, reasoning, and computation.
Our mission is to evoke curiosity about new ways of thinking, and connect to, collaborate with, and challenge one another as we invite students to contribute to our mathematics community. Through inquiry, creativity, and vital, relevant conversation, we instill habits of abstract and applied mathematical thinking and examine the impact of mathematics on our world.
We believe that all students will make contributions that make our world feel, and perhaps be, more whole and less fractured. We believe that the core mathematics courses teach students to apply a critical lens to conjectures about global and local issues, boost curiosity, increase confidence, and establish the need for a growth mindset. And our sincere hope is that our students can re-establish the absolute joy of learning. It’s just like the joy of popping bubbles, without the slimy soap film.
-Dr. Stephanie Salomone
This essay by Dr. Nicole Leupp Hanig, Associate Professor of Music, and Dr. Mead Hunter of Theater at UP, is part of a series of short pieces that offer faculty across the campus an insider’s tour of one of the courses that make up UP’s Core program. Since the Core involves almost a third of the curriculum for every UP student, faculty can benefit from these discipline-by-discipline essays, to better understand the breadth of their students’ campus experience.
“How many of you consider yourself to be a creative person?”
The professor scans the students for faces eager to respond, but only two hands embrace this description. They turn out to be from a graphic designer and an animation artist.
The professor continues. “So the other 33 of you are not creative?” She moves on to asking people what majors they’ve declared, and she gets a typically broad spectrum: Sociology, History, Literature, Languages, Theology, Economics and many more. Nursing and Engineering are prominently represented.
“Those of you who are engineers and nurses. You know you’ll need to be creative at your work, right? Creativity and even artistry aren’t confined to the Fine Arts and the Performing Arts.”
Later in the term, this professor will involve her students in a classroom game called “Engineer or Artist?” Students will view a series of objects with striking visual power—objects that evince artistic interest but which also have a practical function. For each object, students will attempt to arrive at a decision: Who designed it, artist or engineer? They will be surprised many times, and gradually come to realize the distinctions between the two categories break down in the face of human ingenuity.
This is FA207, Introduction to the Arts, a core course that all UP students take early in their careers here. Like all core curriculum studies in the humanities, the course can be defined in varying ways. Perhaps the simplest definition is the study of how human beings respond to and record the human experience. We learn to analyze the human experience through painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, dance, music, theater and film. All these subjects are offered as discrete, full-semester course offerings, but in FA207 we examine them collectively. In this way we come to understand the intersectionality of human expression among artistic disciplines, as well as the intersections of the humanities such as history, politics, religion, science, technology and more.
The goals of FA207 are simple: to expose students to experiences with the arts and to provide tools through which they can analyze what they experience and communicate that analysis. Students attend gallery shows, along with music, dance and theater events, all drawn from the culturally rich environment that is Portland. At the same time they learn how to see and understand the building blocks used to create specific art forms. For instance, components used in painting and many other visual arts include color, line, mass, shape and texture. Music too has many building blocks including tempo, dynamics, rhythm, tonality, melody etc. Film is put together using pan shots, crane shots, close-ups and dozens more to create the illusion of a seamless narrative. In teaching students to see complete works of art as the sum of their parts, we learn about human perceptions and associations with these parts, which then add to our analysis of the whole.
An example of this can be found within the area of color theory, which analyzes what humans associate with specific colors. Interestingly, humans from all cultures have similar perceptions of the primary colors: red, blue and yellow. When we go beyond these primary colors, perceptions start to differ by culture. Red is a color all humans identify with love, blood, anger and passion, which are in direct contrast to perceptions of other colors.
Humans have different relationships to asymmetry versus symmetry, as well as perceptions regarding shapes that are organic as opposed to geometric. Our collective and cultural perceptions of these components combine to create more complex perceptions of completed works. The ability to identify components, and to learn how we as humans have similar understandings and associations with these components, gives us a greater level of understanding in terms of how these artworks shape our lives.
Fine Arts 207 is taught by a variety of different artist/educators. Instrumentalists, actors, painters, art historians, theater designers, singers, dramaturgs, conductors and directors all teach this core class. All see the arts through the lens of their own disciplines, so the class varies significantly depending upon their own artistic métiers and, of course, depending on experience of the students in the class. Some students have extensive experience in one or more areas of the arts or can speak to rich cultural traditions that are outside the narrow confines of western art. In addition, some students have begun to see the world through the lens of their chosen academic major.
With such diverse ways of analyzing and knowing present in the room, dynamic discussions arise that take on such questions as “what is art?” We go further and ask what separates a designer from an artist, as well as analyzing what separates art from technology. Why is applied art—art created to fulfill a purpose in addition to being decorative—traditionally done by women? What do a city’s largest, most expensive buildings tell us about the people who live in those cities and their priorities? Why do we house the many artistic traditions all over the world in categories such as “World Music” or ”Folk Dance?” How does the intersection of art and commerce affect the art being created in our time? How is art used by governments, religions and commercial ventures to further their aims? What is the monetary worth of art, and how is that value established? We also ask about the validity of the art forms themselves in their ability to serve as documentation of historical record, reflecting the experiences and lives of humans from many time periods and civilizations.
Often freshmen arrive at University of Portland eager into delve a specific field of study not fully understanding why core classes like FA207 are necessary. On that all-important first day of classes, those of us who teach within the core face some students who are unsure of how this contributes to their major. But those same professors have learned to appreciate delayed gratification.
Students finish FA207 glad they got to take it. Commonly heard statements at finals time are: “I’ll never look at a building again without noticing how its form follows its function.” “I love noticing how film technique brings me into the storytelling experience.” “It’s fun listening to popular music and knowing how it achieves it effects.” And best of all: “This course has changed the way I see the world.”
-Dr. Nicole Leupp Hanig + Dr. Mead Hunter
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