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Curricular Redesign with the CFT

Posted by on Monday, July 14, 2014 in Commentary, News, Resource.

One characteristic of “the best college teachers,” according to Ken Bain (author of the book by this name and founder of the Vanderbilt CFT), is the ability to “reflect deeply on the nature of thinking within their fields“:

They know what has to come first, and they can distinguish between foundational concepts and elaborations or illustrations of those ideas. They realize where people are likely to face difficulties developing their own comprehension, and they can use that understanding to … tell the right story…. There is a catch to all this, however. That kind of understanding is obviously rooted in each individual field of study and defies generalization. (2004, p. 25)

This notion of disciplines having a “right story”–or I would say “stories”–is useful in thinking about curriculum.  What stories is your department telling about the field?  What has to come first? What’s difficult along the way? How does it end?

Last year, the English Department held a day-long curriculum redesign workshop at the CFT to “reflect deeply on the nature of thinking within the field” and to reconsider how it tells its stories. English Department chair Mark Schoenfield and CFT Assistant Director Nancy Chick worked together to develop the activities for the day. The department had already held multiple meetings and e-conversations about the English major, the different tracks within the major, the need for an initial Foundations course and a final Capstone, and the types of course categories in between.

On this day, Nancy began the workshop by having the faculty articulate the often unspoken processes, functions, and values of the discipline. Mark asked his colleagues to think about the implicit questions at the heart of the discipline. (See above for an excerpt from one of the dozen whiteboards filled up by the end of the day.) From these larger discussions, the 38 faculty who participated throughout the day thought more carefully about its courses, pedagogies, and goals.

The result is described on the department’s web pages, “The New English Program” and “What a 21st-Century English Major Looks Like.” Students are already enrolling in the new Foundations course for the fall and planning their paths through the major.

This workshop was just one of the ways the CFT works directly with departments. For other possibilities, see our “Services for Departments, Programs, and Schools” page. If you’d like us to help your department with a similar project or program, contact us at 322-7290.


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