Arts & Sciences Council discusses potential winter term, course modules as proposed curriculum changes continue

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

The Languages Building on Abele Quad.

Arts & Sciences Council provided suggestions to proposed curriculum changes from the Trinity Curriculum Development Committee at its last Thursday meeting of fall 2023. 

The potential changes included creating a three-week winter term and dividing some courses in half to allow students to take more courses each semester. 

Winter term creation

Council members provided suggestions on the TCDC’s proposal for a three-week winter term, which would aim to allow for courses that may not have enough content for a full semester. 

Council members believed that students in majors that are traditionally limited in their elective course offerings could benefit from a shortened winter term, which would expose students to a diverse array of topics that supplement their major requirements. 

According to the TCDC, the winter term could also enhance interdisciplinary study, as classes during this period would facilitate courses that target specialized topics and span across departments. Additionally, non-traditional faculty, like physicians from the Duke Health system, could be recruited to lead these courses, releasing the burden on regular rank faculty in the process. 

The Council discussed the possibility of using the winter term for experiential learning designed to allow students to transform their classroom knowledge into immersive, interdisciplinary educational experiences. These experiential opportunities could be tied to the themes of courses offered in the fall. 

“I think our curriculum will be more powerful,” said David Malone, professor of the practice of education and a member of both the Council and the TCDC. 

Council members also noted that immersive experiences enhance community among students and contribute to peer-peer and faculty-peer relationship building. 

Some Council members raised concerns that adding a mandatory three-week winter term would place a disproportionate burden on students who use winter break to support their families. They noted that the addition of a three-week term also shortens time away from campus, that may have adverse effects on students’ and faculty members’ collective mental health. 

Given these reservations, the Council questioned whether to make the winter term “required” or simply “offered/optional.” 

Semester course modulation

The Council also discussed modulating courses during the semester, which would segment a singular class into two smaller, more manageable courses. The TCDC noted that this proposal could provide a clearer pathway for assessing student learning. 

This strategy may be particularly applicable to some introductory courses that students in TCDC focus groups found overwhelming. By modulating courses, students would be able to better manage the workload.

Council members stressed the importance of flexibility in academic scheduling, noting that course modularity might be best suited within certain majors and might not be viable across all disciplines. Some also noted that breaking the semester into two halves might increase students’ challenges over deciding their next courses, and could compound to students’ existing stress over their coursework. 

Curriculum development timeline 

Joshua Socolar, professor of physics and chair of the Council, discussed an updated timeline for the adoption of the new curriculum. The TCDC will present a full draft of the proposed curriculum revisions to the Council at its January meeting. 

After another round of feedback, the TCDC will update its proposal and present a final product jointly to the Council and Gary Bennett, dean of Trinity College, at its meeting in March. The Council will then vote on the new curriculum in early April. 

Socolar said that he would not bring the curriculum reform proposal for a full vote if a supermajority of the Council did not support the proposed revisions. 

“I’m expecting consensus,” Socolar said. “We want to do [the curriculum] right.” 

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