Creating Curricular Coherence

Project Pericles and a cohort of Periclean institutions (Macalester College, Morehouse College, and Widener University) are exploring unique but allied approaches to fostering greater coherence in the undergraduate curriculum employing pathways models and problem-based approaches to redesign curricula and programs of study within departments as part of Creating Curricular Coherence through Inquiry-Based Curricula and Thematic Pathways. Colleges are streamlining their courses of study and using civic engagement and community-based learning as catalysts in their efforts. This three-year project is part of The Teagle Foundation's Faculty Planning and Curricular Coherence initiative and is also supported by the Eugene M. Lang Foundation. 

At Morehouse, this faculty-led initiative involves a review of the curriculum and is an ambitious undertaking that will shape undergraduate education for years to come. Morehouse is redesigning its curriculum with an emphasis on inquiry-based learning. The college is using questions about the African diaspora to help shape its work. Macalester and Widener are undertaking targeted initiatives focused on civic engagement, departments, and thematic pathways. Widener is also using an inquiry-based model. They will pilot a curricular pathway focused on the "theme of sustainability and civic engagement" by redesigning existing course offerings. Macalester is piloting pathways in Geography and History that may be expanded to other departments. Project Pericles will play a key role in facilitating inter-institutional collaboration across these partner campuses as well as our network of member institutions. The three campuses and Project Pericles meet on a regular basis to collaborate, to provide feedback, and to share information.

Lessons from the initiative will be shared with our member institutions and higher education more generally. In the summer of 2019, all Periclean campuses will be invited to a convening, where we will discuss insights and best practices on curricular organization, streamlining, and institutional change.

More about the initiatives on each campus:

Macalester College
Macalester College is piloting an integrated approach to curricular design within the Geography and History departments. Macalester's Civic Engagement Center frequently collaborates with individual faculty members to develop specific, semester-long civic engagement projects. As a result of Project Pericles'Creating Cohesive Pathways (2013-2016) mapping initiative and Macalester's continuing reflection on their work, they identified the benefits of collaborating more intentionally and deeply with departments to create engagement pathways. The initiative will support developmentally sequenced course offerings that pair with community-based opportunities to achieve increasing depth and complexity. The goal will be to replace modules with new more streamlined, effective, and efficient pedagogy. The result of this project will be sustainable civic pathways in two disciplines that will serve as models for other departments and institutions. This institutional approach focused on departments will provide greater opportunities for students to gain clarity both on the public purposes of their disciplines and how they can design their academic careers with more coherence and synergies Faculty members frequently partner with community organizations on specific, semester-long civic engagement projects, and the Center supports their efforts. The initiative will allow the Center to work with departments to identify long-term, intentional, and multifaceted community partners for internships, on-going community-based research projects, and vocational mentoring for students. The partnerships will be developed specifically to help meet the learning goals and disciplinary contexts of the academic departments in this project. Community practitioners will share their own work as public problem solvers and model to students how their academic preparation has led them to their work. The connections with organizations and practitioners will be designed to illuminate the public purposes of the disciplines.  

Morehouse College 
Morehouse will build upon three years of work reviewing their general education program. The college will replace their existing distribution requirements with a "general education integrative learning experience" in which courses will be "grounded in an understanding of the African Diaspora." Courses will be sequenced and integrate "issues currently facing African diasporic people and communities." One goal of the redesign is to reduce the size of the general education requirements. Morehouse will streamline the requirements resulting in a reduction from 59-53 credit hours to 48-36 credit hours. In addition to a shared focus on the African Diaspora, courses will be integrated through five learning outcomes, as well as themes of "social justice, equity, and servant-leadership" within all divisions. "As a result of completing the program, students will be stronger in the following areas:

  • Written, verbal, and digital communication;
  • Problem-solving and critical analysis;
  • Broad-based and integrative knowledge across the disciplines;
  • Knowledge concerning the life and history of the worldwide African Diaspora;
  • Global citizenship and ethical leadership; and
  • Engagement with human identity and diversity."

Students will integrate service learning, writing, and subject matter knowledge in a two-semester, first-year experience. "Another distinctive feature will be a sequence on the history and culture of black people that will link the past and present and integrate the classroom with issues currently facing African diasporic people and communities." The redesigned curriculum will create "pathways for students to careers in the 21st century economy" through, "coding across the curriculum," where students will develop the skills to design computer programs to process data that is relevant to their majors.

Widener University
The Sustainability and Civic Engagement thematic pathway will employ multiple high-impact practices. Students will begin with an interdisciplinary first-year seminar, progress through a series of general education gateway, pathway, and linked syllabus courses with sustainability integrated throughout, and finish with seminars and capstone projects. Community-based and problem-based courses, as well as study abroad at Widener's global hub in Costa Rica, are also central to this approach. Like Morehouse, Widener students will learn to apply their academic and disciplinary knowledge to address real world problems developing important career skills.

If successful, this pilot program in 2020 will feature a coherent array of well-attended, sustainability and civic engagement-focused courses that students can apply toward fulfillment of general education requirements. Completing this particular pathway will benefit students by providing a greater understanding of the interconnectedness of environmental, ecological, social, political, and economic systems, while also encouraging calls for intergenerational respect and stewardship. Promoting participation in this program through workshops and incentives will additionally benefit interested faculty members by offering demonstrable support for their efforts, while also furthering cross-disciplinary collaborations and information sharing. 

The initiative will further enhance Widener's institution-wide commitment to sustainability and should promote greater curricular/co-curricular integration toward fostering stronger relationships with community partners in the City of Chester, the greater Philadelphia metropolitan region, and in Widener's global hubs in Costa Rica and China.

A successful pilot will be replicable to allow for the development of further thematic and multi-disciplinary pathways focused on other significant problems.