Committee proposes changes in curriculum

by Emily SchettlerStaff Writer

The Simpson faculty has taken on the task of revising the school’s curriculum for the first time in nearly 30 years.

A group of faculty volunteers spent last summer researching other schools and reviewing national surveys to find ways to improve the curriculum at Simpson. The Learning Programs Working Group, a committee made of administrators and faculty, used that research to draw up a draft of proposed changes.

The main goal of the revisions is to provide students with hands-on experience through experiential learning.

“The classes are important, but it’s also important to have integrated education where you can not only demonstrate in class that you know the subject, but you’ve had an experience that demonstrates you can actually implement the idea,” Steve Griffith, vice president and dean of academic affairs, said.

The LPWG has proposed a number of changes they think will help reach this goal. First, the number of courses needed to graduate would be reduced. Currently, most students need to complete more than 42 courses to fulfill graduation requirements. That number would be reduced to 32 courses for a Bachelor of Arts degree and 36 courses for a Bachelor of Music degree. According to Stephanie Krauth, associate dean of students, Simpson’s current graduation requirements are higher than those of other comparable schools.

“If you compare us to similar institutions, by and large, we are a little bit heavier in the number of courses that are required for graduation” Krauth said.

Griffith notes that part of the research included comparing Simpson to other schools.

“We’re looking at the best practices in higher education at places like us across the country,” he said. “Most institutions require 32 or 34 courses for graduation.

In addition to reducing the number of courses, the credits awarded to each course would be expressed in units. Each course would count as one unit.

The LPWG stated in their draft for discussion that credit at many high-quality institutions is assigned based on academic expectations of a course, rather than seat time.

The one-unit model is comparable to a four-credit model, where each unit is worth four credits. Currently, students take five courses worth three credits each. Under the new system, students would take four courses each worth one unit, or four credits.

Students would take fewer courses but earn more credit for each course because they would be more in depth.

“One of the things we’ve found is definite value of going into more depth in specific areas,” Kedron Bardwell, assistant professor of political science, said. “Schools that have this program tend to focus on the really core stuff and do it in depth. They provide the knowledge that is essential to that major.”

The reason for cutting the number of required courses and possibly extending class periods is to help students get hands on experience and more one-on-one time with professors.

“The overarching goal is to create time in everybody’s schedule to work one-on-one with faculty members,” Griffith said. “That’s what students say they like about Simpson College. That’s what employers say really needs to happen. They like people going into the workforce who really have done things on their own.”

Considerable changes are also being considered for May Term. Under the proposed changes, students would only be required to take two May Terms. More emphasis would be placed on international and domestic travel courses as well as internships and research opportunities.

Griffith said it is possible that major courses and cornerstones could be offered during May Term because the longer periods allow for flexibility.

“The real advantage of a May Term is that you have a block of time,” Griffith said. “Departments may say the best way to teach this particular idea of our majors is in a big block of time in May Term, so that would be offered.”

One main reason the curriculum changes are being considered is faculty overload.

“Simpson has one of the highest teaching loads of any liberal arts college in the region,” Bardwell said.

The work commitment may deter potential faculty members from applying for or taking jobs at Simpson.

“It’s something that younger faculty especially are looking at,” Bardwell said. “Faculty are doing more, we’re on committees, we’re advising. We’re still trying to do some research, and teaching a heavy course load in addition to that is rigorous.”

The LPWG proposal includes a longer break between second semester and May Term which would allow faculty more time to finish grading and prepare their courses for the May Term.

Graduation would also be held after the spring semester to allow seniors to go into the job market earlier.

Other proposals outlined in the LPWG’s draft for discussion include changing the date of Simpson’s spring break to align with that of local school districts and revising the daily schedule.

Griffith said that the proposed changes could go into effect as early as the fall of 2010.

Once a final proposal has been written, it will be sent to the Educational Policy and Curriculum Committee for review and a vote. After it has been approved by the EPCC it must be voted on by the faculty.

Griffith said the revisions will be slowly introduced to ensure that no students are put at a disadvantage.

“We wouldn’t switch everything overnight,” Griffith said. “The students currently here would retain the same rules they had as the new rules take place for the new students.”

Griffith said he is excited for the changes to come.

“It’s going to be exciting and more hands on,” he said. “We’re looking at…what students need to know as they move into the workplace. We can use this to build the Simpson of the future.”