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Arts & Sciences Council gets first look at values, priorities of new Trinity undergrad curriculum

<p>The Languages Building on Abele Quad.</p>

The Languages Building on Abele Quad.

Trinity College of Arts and Science’s Curriculum Development Committee presented a first look at the structure and values of its new undergraduate curriculum to the Arts & Sciences Council at its Thursday meeting.

The Trinity CDC has finished its “listening tour” by meeting with faculty that would be impacted by and involved in developing the new curriculum, according to Scott Huettel, professor of psychology and neuroscience and chair of the Trinity CDC. This semester, the Committee will begin discussing the content of Trinity's new curriculum, which will replace the current Curriculum 2000. It hopes to present a full draft of the curriculum by the fall of 2023, according to Huettel. 

The Trinity CDC is also working with Duke Student Government to run focus groups and will send a survey about the curriculum to undergraduates.

“I think our task is to find a curriculum that when implemented, will act to create positive feedback loops. It's going to, over time, incentivize students to do good things,” Huettel said.

Guiding principles

A major factor that the Trinity CDC is taking into consideration in the development of the new curriculum is the availability of information to students through the Internet.

“Every single bit of information you consumed was curated in some way,” Huettel said of his own undergraduate education, which occurred at a time when the internet was not yet easily accessible. “It was given to us by experts, by professionals. When I went to school I was given textbooks or papers. I actually had an access problem for information.”

Huetell said that Curriculum 2000 was developed at that time and under this worldview. 

“That is not our world today,” he added. “So our committee has spent a lot of time thinking about what's different about the world then and the world now.”

This idea of information access has been incorporated into two key principles that will drive the development of Trinity’s next curriculum: “epistemic humility” and understanding how to interpret evidence.

Epistemic humility, according to Huettel, recognizes that each individual’s knowledge and perspectives are “imperfect” and “need to be balanced by other perspectives.”

Discussions about how to interpret evidence, Huettel said, have been brought up in conversations with faculty from the arts and humanities, social sciences and natural sciences.

“Our students in the current world need to understand not just that information is out there, but how to evaluate that information. How to understand the processes that generate information, how to understand what things might suppress information, [that] some viewpoints are marginalized and why,” Huettel said.

Huettel added that along with principles relating to information, the Trinity CDC has come up with core values that should be reflected in the new curriculum.

He said that it needs to be simpler than Curriculum 2000, and said that it should be “one place where we can touch all of our students.” Huettel also said that the new curriculum should have space for students to reflect while learning, and that “a sense of time and space” should be incorporated within the curriculum.

“Our students are not just at an abstract liberal arts institution. They're at Duke University. They're not in an abstract historical period. They're being educated right now,” Huettel said. “We have to think about a curriculum for these students in this place at this time.”

Jarvis McInnis, Cordelia and William Laverack Family assistant professor of English and a member of the Trinity CDC, said that an example of centering the curriculum in time and space could involve having students “wrestle with” Duke’s history in Durham and its impact on the city’s future.

Some faculty members took issue with the value of focusing the curriculum on what students specifically need to know for this day and age. 

James Chappel, Gilhuly Family associate professor of history, noted how Curriculum 2000 “places global entanglements at the center” through study abroad programs, but the update did not include a discussion of Duke’s global presence. Huettel responded by saying that many of the issues that students will encounter in this new curriculum will be “cross-cutting” and global, referencing climate change as an example.  

Catherine Mathers, associate professor of the practice in the international comparative studies program, agreed with Chappel, noting that the emphasis on centering the curriculum’s reflections component in space and time only implicitly acknowledged global challenges. 

“I love the idea of being in place, the student being in place, but to me, that place is beyond North Carolina, United States’ empire,” she said. “So thinking for me about the global is directly thinking about that, and I did find that missing.”

Kata Gellen, associate professor of German studies, agreed with Mathers. She said that the value of space and time is “very focused on the here and the now.”

“I would want to see at least as much emphasis placed on the event and the elsewhere,” she said. “... I think that getting an understanding that the world is in fact much bigger than Duke … is as important.”

McInnis clarified that the sense of time and place that is described in the curriculum is both “vertical and horizontal,” and that taking advantage of thinking about Duke and Durham’s relationship is only one example of how reflection about ethics can be incorporated into the curriculum.

Challenges to consider

Grading is a large concern for faculty across the University in developing a curriculum that achieves these goals, according to Huettel.

“Many of you express concerns about how grades are sort of undermining much of what you do,” Huettel said to faculty at the meeting. He added that the problem is not just grade inflation, but grade compression in that the grading has hit the “upper bound” of the grading system.

“It's changed to a binary system,” he said. “A's are good, everything else bad … we have to think through even beyond the curriculum, how grading intersects with everything else we do.”

Sarah Wilbur, associate professor of the practice of dance, was concerned that the grading system itself — regardless of inflation — does not make sense for evaluating how students grapple with concepts like epistemic humility.

“This idea of epistemic humility is kind of a tough concept to wrap your brain around. How do you reward good behavior, for the ability to handle the complex or contradiction or minoritized knowledge,” she said.

Huettel also discussed the need for the curriculum to be set up in such a way that it does not exacerbate mental health issues among students on campus. 

Adway S. Wadekar profile
Adway S. Wadekar | University News Editor

Adway S. Wadekar is a Trinity sophomore and a university news editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume. He has also contributed to the sports section.


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