Responding to the 2020 report by the Higher Learning Commission, CU Boulder’s accrediting body, Chancellor Phil DiStefano declared CU Boulder’s commitment to creating a common learning experience and a common set of intended learning outcomes for CU Boulder undergraduates. This commitment is grounded in the 2018 recommendation of the university’s Academic Futures strategic initiative to define common educational touchpoints throughout the undergraduate experience and in the 2019 Interdisciplinary Working Group’s call to create a range of both disciplinary and interdisciplinary educational experiences for our students.
Senior Vice Provost for Academic Planning and Assessment Katherine Eggert will lead the university’s effort. Throughout the spring 2021 semester, Senior Vice Provost Eggert and Professor of Musicology Robert Shay, former dean of the College of Music, will meet with academic departments and programs in a “listening tour” as a first step in understanding the hopes and concerns of faculty and professional staff who work to advance CU Boulder’s undergraduate programs. The aim of these meetings is to gather thoughts and ideas around the concept of a “shared community of learning,” and to gather strategic thinking about how to plan a common curriculum. The listening tour will be followed in academic year 2021–22 by the work of a planning committee, whose draft recommendations will be available for campus review and comment before they are finalized.
A common curriculum not only covers various academic subjects, but also introduces and engages students in common themes, skills, methodologies or values that the institution deems important for the development of its undergraduate student population. Typically, a common curriculum isn't a prescribed set of courses, but instead represents a set of integrative values or learning outcomes (civic action and reflection,” “innovative thinking,” “ethical reasoning”, among others) that are addressed within the curriculum and assist the students in exploring connections between academic work and life outside of the university. This set of foundational themes creates connections among courses, disciplines, academic areas and nonacademic areas, possibly where no connection has existed before. Ideally, a common curriculum makes a virtue of the individualism of our students—as each student decides what courses addressing these various themes and ways of knowing, both within and beyond their majors, best serve their educational needs and interests.
A common curriculum fosters a sense of community and dialogue among students by facilitating the exchange of new ideas and discourse between students of diverse and different backgrounds. It exists both in courses required for students’ majors and in the diverse landscape of courses that sit outside of the majors. Ideally, these courses expose students to a wide range of areas and modes of knowledge and help undergraduates develop intellectual skills, competencies, and literacies that act as a foundation to the rest of their education and future careers. Often thought of as "walk out of the stadium knowledge"— what knowledge do we want our students to have when they are awarded a CU Boulder bachelor’s degree?—these skills are imparted both within the major and through courses that expose students to new modes of inquiry and interpretation they might not otherwise get to explore within their majors.
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