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Like all departments, econ braces for new curriculum braces for new curriculum

It isn't easy overhauling more than 50 undergraduate courses so that they fit into a new curriculum design, and few departments understand this as well as the economics department.

When Curriculum 2000 preparations began this past summer, each department in Trinity College was instructed to determine how each of its courses would fit into the new designations required by the plan.

Administrators provided each department with an overview of the requirements a course needed in order to fill any of the particular designations, said Lori Leachman, a visiting associate professor and assistant director of undergraduate studies in economics. The first task was to evaluate the courses and determine which were able to fit directly into one of the areas without modification, she added. Not all courses were able to do this.

"It really wasn't that difficult of a task, except it required you to think of what you were delivering in new parameters," said Leachman. "In the beginning, there was some resistance to the change as people thought, 'Oh God, this is going to be a lot of work.' But in reality, many of us were already doing these things."

She said she is not yet sure whether the new designations will prove useful, though she admitted her short time in the position leaves her with little basis for comparison. "It may just be reinventing the wheel for the sake of reinventing the wheel..., but it's too early to tell," said Leachman, whose husband, Provost Peter Lange, chaired the committee that designed Curriculum 2000." She added that at the very least it gave the department an opportunity for reevaluation, and "anytime you undertake introspection it's a good thing."

Craufurd Goodwin, a professor of economics, said he felt the new designations would prove useful, particularly the writing and research ones. He and Leachman, however, stood alone in their open praise, as many other professors expressed either unfamiliarity with the curriculum or declined to discuss the process.

The task of reevaluating courses was given to the individual faculty members, who were asked to submit a course descriptions to the Curriculum Committee for evaluation. Goodwin said he "had no difficulty" with the process. He did not have to modify any courses, and found the effort "very painless."

Kent Kimbrough, a professor of economics, agreed that the process was easy, saying he chose not to modify his courses. He said he did not believe the new designations would be beneficial.

In the end, the majority of economics courses received the Quantitative, Inductive and Deductive Reasoning designation with little effort. "Virtually everything we had involved some type of modeling, so it wasn't a problem," said Leachman. Other areas were much more difficult to meet, however. Out of some 65 courses, for example, only seven received the Science, Technology and Society designation.

Goodwin is currently in the process of writing up a new course to meet the STS requirement, "because we have relatively few of those," he said. He plans to focus the course on the use of economics in society.

Like Goodwin and Kimbrough's courses, most, but not all, of the designations that the department petitioned for were approved easily. In about 20 cases, a further write-up had to be provided to move the course designation from pending to approved.

In those cases, Leachman herself would undertake the development of the second submission. She would talk to the individual faculty members to determine how their courses could be better described or modified to meet the requirements. "We have sort of an attrition through the semester," she said, "so it was easier to do through one office."

She added that there were a few cases where the instructor wrote up the second review.

By the time the department finished resubmitting all of its pending courses, nearly all of the 20 courses were finally approved, she said. Those that were not usually failed to prove their writing designation.

"Getting these designations was sometimes a real struggle," said Neil DeMarchi, an economics professor and director of undergraduate studies for the department. Both he and Leachman confirmed that many times the writing designation was the hardest to prove.

"They were really concerned that [the writing] part of it had real integrity," said Leachman. "Anyone who got a writing designation actually wrote a summary explaining their iteration." In some instances, the department decided to abandon the task of earning a writing designation for their courses.

Of course, said Leachman, not every economics course was capable of petitioning for the writing designation.

Many of the classes are large lectures, which make both writing and research initiatives difficult. She noted that the most common way of achieving the research designation was to "beef up" requirements already present in the course.

"We have lots of research intensive courses," she said, adding that most are in the upper 100- or lower-200-level range. "Our subject lends itself well to reports and the written word. Whether you're getting the designation or not depends on class size, etc."

She added that the senior faculty members fared best in receiving the research designation for their econ courses.

Other courses were sent back as pending when the department inadvertently asked for a course to receive a designation in more than three categories.

Courses are only able to meet three areas under the Curriculum 2000 plan.


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