Arts & Sciences unveils new undergraduate curriculum, planner

Integrated InQuiry (IQ) to be introduced to incoming undergraduates this fall

While “discovery” still will be a key element in the academic experience of Arts & Sciences undergraduate majors at Washington University in St. Louis, the Discovery Curriculum, introduced in 2001, is moving aside for a newly revised curriculum, called Integrated InQuiry (IQ).

The College of Arts & Sciences will introduce the IQ curriculum, developed over a four-year process with input from students, faculty and administrators, to new undergraduates arriving this fall.

Current Arts & Sciences students will continue using the Discovery Curriculum until they graduate.

Along with the revised Arts & Sciences undergraduate curriculum, there will be a new, more user-friendly online planner, called the PlanIT. Both current and new students will use the new planner application in the fall.

The process of reviewing the Arts & Sciences curriculum and revising it started in 2008. Mark Rollins, PhD, professor of philosophy in Arts & Sciences, chaired the New Curriculum Review Committee comprising 16 faculty, two students and an administrator.

When the current curriculum was implemented 10 years ago, its architects mandated a review after five years. For a number of reasons, it took a few years longer for the review process to begin, but once started, research from focus studies, surveys and town hall meetings showed some student dissatisfaction, particularly with the cluster requirements.

“There was also some evidence that the system wasn’t succeeding as well as we would like in improving skills — such as writing — and in engaging the students intellectually,” Rollins says.

Engaging students’ natural curiosity, drive

Rollins says his committee aimed for a set of requirements that was “more flexible and acknowledged students’ natural interest in new lines of research that crossed traditional disciplinary boundaries.”

“We were guided by the goal of developing a curriculum that engages the natural curiosity and drive of our students, that reflects the growth of knowledge and important changes in the nature of faculty research in the past 10 years, and that includes requirements that are well-coordinated and work together interactively,” Rollins says.

His committee presented a report in April 2009 that outlined proposed curriculum changes to the ArtSci Council, which represents the Arts & Sciences student body.

For a new curriculum to go into effect, the ArtSci Council has to vote on it. The council approved the proposed curriculum changes. The Arts & Sciences faculty then voted on the new curriculum and approved it on May 1, 2009.

A 17-member Curriculum Implementation Committee (CIC) was created in November 2009, headed by Matt Erlin, PhD, associate professor of German in Arts & Sciences.

The CIC, which comprised faculty members, students and administrators, met regularly for a year fine-tuning the curriculum and working on a range of logistical and technical issues related to its implementation.

Exploring variety of options

One of the major changes to the curriculum involves the “cluster” system that groups closely related courses linked by a subject focus or by a method of analysis. Clusters are being replaced by Integrated Inquiries (IQs), reducing the number of clusters from 300 to less than 25 linked courses across multiple disciplines.

Erlin says that both the Discovery Curriculum and the revised IQ Curriculum emphasize the need for integrated learning.

“Students should be encouraged to combine coursework in such a way that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” Erlin says. “The IQ Curriculum is different in that it recognizes a wide variety of ways to achieve this kind of integration. Previously, students focused above all on the clusters; now, they can choose from a variety of options.”

These options include the Integrated Inquiries, which explore an enduring question from different disciplinary perspectives; FOCUS and other special freshman programs, which are yearlong linked seminars that address a particular object of inquiry such as the Literary Culture of Modern Ireland or the Argentinean Experience; and study abroad programs. Major and minor programs remain another method for completing an Integration.

“The new Integrated Inquiries are intended to play a role that is similar to that of the clusters, but they are more broadly conceived, offer students a greater variety of courses to choose from, and place a greater emphasis on combining courses from different departments and programs,” Erlin says.

“Our hope is that the changes will make it easier for students to fulfill their integrated learning requirements while at the same time encouraging them to think about big issues and providing them with a truly interdisciplinary perspective on a given topic.”

Developing cultural fluency

Another significant change in the revised curriculum is an increased emphasis on developing cultural fluency, whether through language study or through courses focusing on cultures outside of Britain and English-speaking North America, says Jennifer L. Romney, assistant dean in the College of Arts & Sciences and a member of the Implementation Committee.

With the current curriculum, students can fulfill their “Language and Arts” requirement by taking just two semesters of a single foreign language and the “Cultural Diversity’’ requirement by taking just one related course.

The IQ curriculum will combine “Language and Arts” and “Cultural Diversity” into “Language & Cultural Diversity,” while “Arts” has joined with the “Humanities” area.

While a foreign language requirement still will not be required in the new curriculum, students must take either at least three courses in a single foreign language or four cultural diversity courses.

Romney says that the discrepancy between the required number of courses in the two different areas is because foreign language courses are often five units each while cultural diversity courses are typically three units.

“Because we are encouraging language study, we’ll be adding a session to Orientation on ‘How to Choose a Language, and Why,’” says Romney, who has held “Clusterama” sessions and Planner workshops every academic year to introduce students to the Discovery Curriculum and how to fulfill degree requirements.

Augmenting this increased emphasis on cultural fluency, students will be able to fulfill one of their “Integrations” requirements by completing one of 12 faculty-led study away programs. Previously, such programs were not included among the possibilities for students to fulfill distribution requirements.

Nine of these programs are summer-long, with many focusing on intensive language and culture study in places such as France, Senegal and Spain, or on a particular topic, such as the “MADE in France” program for dance and performing arts students; the “Pluralism, Politics, and Religion” program in Paris; or “Shakespeare at the Globe,” a theater program in London.

The three other programs are semester-long and offer study in Chile, Shanghai or Washington, D.C.

“As they explore our new IQ curriculum, incoming
freshmen will have an increased flexibility to discover and develop
their intellectual passions while still achieving a depth of study that
will prepare them for their future endeavors,” says Jen Smith, PhD, who becomes dean of the College of Arts & Sciences July 1.

“We hope the focus on cultural fluency in the new curriculum will foster our students’ sense of themselves as global citizens,” says Smith, associate professor of earth and planetary sciences and of environmental studies, both in Arts & Sciences, and a four-year adviser.

Exploring the curriculum through PlanIt

To help students navigate the new curriculum and select the range of courses to meet their educational goals, they will work with their four-year advisers in the college as well as PlanIt.

The current Planner, a web-based curriculum planning software that was built in-house some 10 years ago, also has been reviewed and gone through a thorough overhaul, says Trevor M. Bilhorn, College of Arts & Sciences registrar and a member of the Implementation Committee.

He said the PlanIt will do all of what the current Planner does, including help students explore the curriculum, revise and track a course of study across all four years, and identify which courses will help them fulfill their distribution requirements.

It also will augment students’ dialogue with their advisers and be a practical tool for registration and identifying course favorites.

“The Planner has been given a facelift, providing students with a more interactive, intuitive way to access the material that comprises their course of study and explore the multitude of opportunities within Arts & Sciences,” Bilhorn says.

Arts & Sciences advisers are training on PlanIT this semester as it undergoes a testing period. PlanIT is expected to be accessible to students, both current and incoming, by the end of May.

“You can learn what you love” was a favorite expression of the late James E. McLeod, vice chancellor for students and dean of the College of Arts & Sciences.

“Those words have been the overriding theme throughout the implementation process,” Bilhorn says. “We’re all driven to help students achieve that goal.”