few months the Center spotlights a topic of significance to research university
faculty and administrators. Its approach is Thoughts and Models. The Thought
consists of a short essay on the particular topic being highlighted. The
Models represent different campus approaches to the topic.
Interdisciplinary General Education at the Research University
Gregory D. Bothun, Department of Physics, University of Oregon
General education requirements at
the research university typically consist of 15-20 credits in each
of the subject areas within the College of Arts and Sciences - e.g.
Natural Sciences, Social Sciences and Humanities. Students generally
satisfy these requirements by taking mass lecture classes, typically
greater than 200 students, in X101: Physics 101, Sociology 101,
History 101, etc. The underlying goal of this general education
model is to provide students with an education that is broader than
their own interests.
While the goal is laudable, the
X101 structure is far removed from the ideal of a meaningful education.
The current world of research and scholarship is no longer so easily
divided into distinct disciplinary areas, and it is becoming increasingly
complex as the problems under study become more intertwined. New
avenues of exploration related, for example, to global change, cognitive
processing, and environmental problem solving are all interdisciplinary
in nature. Equally important, as we continue to teach the world
in isolated pieces, we also continue to treat the students in the
same way, grading them on the basis of their ability to memorize
and repeat isolated facts. This approach is at odds with the real
world where graduates from our institutions are expected to function
well in a complex, team-oriented work place. Yet we never teach
Collaboration 101 as part of general education. At the same time,
the mass lecture approach suffers from a number of well known pedagogical
problems, including, but not limited to a) encouraging passivity
in students, b) encouraging wholesale student memorization as the
lecture content is mostly static in nature, c) vesting the instructor
as the primary information source, d) largely eliminating cooperative
or peer learning possibilities and e) poorly serving the wide range
of student learning styles.
Hence, mass lecture X101 represents
a single approach to teaching and assessment that could lead to
failure for many students who would be better served by a more diversified
approach to learning. Moreover, within the X101 structure prior
conceptual frameworks are rarely challenged, and these preconceptions
in turn prevent students from assimilating new concepts. This situation
cries out for a new approach. I propose the development of a new
era of general education courses that are interdisciplinary in nature,
are taught by a faculty team, and emphasize collaborative inquiry
and presentation on the part of the students. Out of such a structure,
a true learning community could emerge, enabling the traditional
barriers between professors and students to erode and instructional
technology as a collaborative tool to finally take its proper place
in higher education.
Barriers to Change
Before implementing an interdisciplinary
general education sequence based on collaborative learning, we must
address several major barriers, reflecting both cultural and institutional
patterns that act as disincentives to change. These barriers have
become manifest to me in the course of my career as a result of
actually teaching interdisciplinary courses, being an early adopter
of instructional technology as a means of enhancing student-student
collaboration and being a persistent pain in the neck to deans and
other administrators. However, it is possible to overcome such barriers
by developing robust strategies to enable implementation, as evidenced
by some successful examples.
Last year I did a survey of faculty at the University of Oregon,
with results of some relevance here. I found that faculty are frequently
reluctant to teach general education courses, perceiving them merely
as a necessary service load for their department. They also seem
particularly reluctant to teach formal interdisciplinary general
education courses. This reluctance stems partly from a lack of time
to develop new courses, especially those requiring new thinking
about how to teach. It may also stem from a lack of understanding
of the structure of an interdisciplinary course sequence and a sense
that they do not know how to design such a course.
Students can potentially play a large role in institutional reform.
While student demonstrations against "spoon-fed knowledge"
classes have yet to materialize, a growing number of students really
want to be exposed to material in new and different ways. However,
many students persist in the mentality that they will acquire knowledge
by memorizing the lectures and the text, and will manifest this
knowledge by performance on individual assessment tools. A sobering
reminder occurred in 1998 when I taught a history/ philosophy of
science class with another faculty member. The course was set up
to expose students to scientific debate centered around ambiguous
data (e.g. geocentric vs. heliocentric solar systems, the age of
the earth, evolution and natural selection, the expanding universe).
This approach worked well for the top 20% of the class. But the
remainder of the class is best represented by this comment from
the student evaluations:
"Throughout this class there were often two opposing and conflicting
views on a particular subject and it was never clear who was right
and what we were supposed to know. The class would have been simpler
for me if there was just one professor presenting information."
Our students are so pre-programmed to respond to a single point
of information that multiple 'experts' placed in front of them can
confuse rather than enlighten them.
Sustainability and Balance
While there is recognition that the mass lecture X101 approach to
general education is flawed, there is also skepticism that another
structure can be implemented. At the heart of this skepticism is
the issue of sustainability of courses as well as the total balance
of all courses. One issue is whether or not interdisciplinary general
education courses can be sufficiently standardized so that they
can be offered across years and faculty in a predictable fashion.
Proposed interdisciplinary course sequences will not be taken seriously
as meeting university requirements unless sustainability can be
demonstrated and redundancy with other courses eliminated. Certainly,
movement to interdisciplinary general education courses could threaten
the sustainability of the X101 courses, upsetting long established
balances, but this is the price to pay for significant rethinking
of curriculum sequencing.
Student Credit Hour Funding
Departments are often funded directly on the basis of the number
of student credit hours (SCH) they generate. In a worst case, this
leads to empty-headed courses taken by thousands of students a year
(e.g., The Physics of Sex). If this hypothetical course existed,
it could potentially rob other departments of SCH funding and this
naturally creates defensive faculty. As a result, when new interdisciplinary
courses are proposed, departments, worrying about loss of SCH and
funds, may claim territorial rights to the proposed subject matter.
Another issue of SCH-based funding is that it may or may not make
provision for team teaching courses. Any such provisions may be
viewed as incentives or disincentives for partnering. In addition,
SCH-based funding seems to strongly reward departments for offering
X101, even if it has zero pedagogical value.
Most university classrooms are box-like structures with students
limited to fixed seating in a crowded room with a mumbling professor
at the front. If we are interested in using collaborative learning
as a framework for launching interdisciplinary general education
classes, we need classroom space that has a better layout. While
the renovation of campus space can be expensive and controversial,
we can no longer afford to underestimate the effect of the box-like
lecture hall in demoralizing student learning. The creation of more
flexible learning spaces and the use of technology to increase the
potential for collaborative work can have a significant impact on
Strategies for Overcoming Barriers
The barriers I have described range
from perceptions of students and faculty to structural barriers
in the funding of undergraduate education. In some instances, perceptions
are formed by structure.
One of the biggest hurdles is simply
the crisis of imagination in developing interdisciplinary courses.
The default view is that interdisciplinarity is more easily achieved
in areas with common modes of thought, for example, in the sciences
where one can envision effective collaboration between life scientists
and physical scientists in addressing the origin of life issues
or in the social sciences in exploring how societies influence economic
forms. Collaborations between physical scientists and economists
are much harder to imagine, although individual faculty creativity
can produce any kind of interdisciplinary marriage.
Perhaps the most successful strategy
when envisioning an interdisciplinary course is to identify some
intellectual thread and then build material around that thread.
Examples of topics that would readily lend themselves to such an
Energy Deregulation: A course on this subject could address the
physical and social parameters of the problem of production in a
high energy-consumptive society. It might draw on faculty from humanities,
social sciences and natural sciences.
The Moment of Discovery: How does the brain go through a process
that produces discovery? How does it free itself of biases in order
to reach discovery? Is the moment of discovery any different for
a scientist than an artist? Faculty from natural sciences, psychology,
neurology, and fine arts could bring their disciplinary perspectives
to bear on this subject.
The thread concept is the basis for the successful implementation
of interdisciplinary general education clusters at UCLA (http://www.college.ucla.edu/ge/),
an "overnight" innovation that actually took eight years
to evolve from concept to a well-developed and established general
education option. UCLA's team-taught clusters allow students to
connect with the "scholarship of ideas" rather than memorizing
the individual spin of a particular professor. This approach creates
a rich opportunity for curriculum redesign and forming new partnerships
with other faculty.
Sustainability for such courses
can be addressed if the theme of the course is sufficiently broad
and the syllabus flexible, provided there is a sufficient core of
faculty with relevant interests. The courses need not be identical
from year to year. Stony Brook's course in "The Social Dimensions
of Science" (http://www.wise.sunysb.edu/)
offers a good example of this approach. Faculty help students deal
with ambiguity by emphasizing the variety of points of view that
occur when science and society interweave. Since there are no hard
and fast answers, as those in science have perhaps come to expect
from their more focused courses, faculty need to give special attention
to the frustrations students may experience with ambiguity.
The University of Oregon provides
a somewhat different approach through its Pathways program, in which
courses from different disciplines are tied together in some common
theme, such as Science, Law and Culture (http://www.uoregon.edu/~pathway/).
Pathways are largely constructed by combining extant departmental
courses, rather than by the creation of explicitly interdisciplinary
courses. However, the Pathways concept represents real opportunity
for the construction of the kind of interdisciplinary learning environment
that I am proposing. The University provided incentive funding for
departments that were willing to get together to create new kinds
of learning opportunities for students. As a result, students taking
a two-year Pathway will satisfy the bulk of their general education
requirements in the context of a connected pathway through thematically
Overcoming structural problems related
to funding of departments requires considerable pro-activity on
the part of the administration. The Pathways example given above
shows how incentives can be used effectively, but we are still working
on how participation in a Pathway can be viewed as more beneficial
for departments than simply enrolling hundreds of students in X101.
A more radical approach would be if Departments actually could get
incentive funding to the point where X101 is financially unfavorable
compared to participation in the Pathway concept.
The University of Oregon also provides
an example of creative use of physical space to encourage collaboration.
One such classroom can be viewed at: http://c204cam.uoregon.edu.
This wireless laptop classroom (with 40 available laptops) also
serves as a general classroom for instructors who want to form student
collaborative learning groups. Indeed, the room's design is sufficiently
subversive that giving a traditional lecture is difficult. While
not yet fully addressing the question of lecture halls for 200+
students, it gives us some pointers for new directions.
In sum, research universities can
now choose whether to continue the post-World War II, X101 model
for their general educational requirements, or to move in a completely
new direction that allows students to fulfill their general education
requirements in a truly interdisciplinary fashion. The former method
clearly has shortcomings and is unlikely to contribute very much
to the students' overall learning at the University. The latter,
in contrast, has much potential to give students an experience more
connected to the real world and to teach them valuable collaboration
and communication skills. Although the barriers to reforming general
education are large, they are not insurmountable. Success requires
the recognition that the previous practice of X101 has reached its
natural limit and a commitment by both faculty and administration
to develop new modes of learning.
The Center spotlights three universities that exemplify different strategies
for creating interdisciplinary general education. The University of California
at Los Angeles developed a series of "Clusters" that allow incoming
students to enroll in a year-long collaboratively-taught class focused
on a topic such as the Global Environment or Interracial Dynamics. At
the University of Michigan, the Global Change Curriculum offers a three-course
sequence that satisfies distribution requirements and draws on the faculty
of four different schools at the University. The University of Texas at
Austin created a series of connected programs, collectively known as Connexus,
through which students can complete both general education and major requirements
and undertake related research and field experiences.
A common thread running
through all three profiles is that the initiatives could not have succeeded
without dedication on the part of both faculty and administrators, who
worked together to overcome the barriers inherent in the current disciplinary
and departmental structures.
also have created general education programs that integrate multiple disciplinary
perspectives. While space does not permit us to profile all of them, we
refer you to our Resources
page for links to additional programs.
Interdisciplinary General Education at UCLA
UCLA's effort to introduce interdisciplinary teaching
and learning into its general education curriculum is centered in
the General Education (GE) "cluster" program of the College
of Letters and Science. This program - more fully described in a
previous Spotlight (http://www.sunysb.edu/reinventioncenter/spotlight.html#gecluster)
-- offers UCLA's incoming freshmen the option of enrolling in a
yearlong, collaboratively-taught, interdisciplinary course that
is focused on a topic of timely importance such as the "Global
Environment" or "Interracial Dynamics." Since 1997,
eleven of these innovative clusters have been developed and over
3000 freshman students have enrolled in them. Approximately 25%
of entering students enrolled in 2000-2001; the goal is to offer
enough clusters so that half the class can enroll.
As Greg Bothun humorously notes in his essay, the
development and implementation of this GE cluster program has not
been an "overnight" affair. Rather, it has been a time-consuming,
labor intensive, and not inexpensive ten-year process aimed at changing
the ways in which faculty, graduate student instructors, and first-year
students approach general education teaching and learning. Along
the way, we have encountered many of the same barriers that Professor
Bothun mentions: faculty skepticism, student confusion, resource
and space concerns. We have employed a variety of strategies in
overcoming these challenges:
Securing High-Level Administrative Support:
The easiest way to get department chairs and their faculty colleagues
engaged in any kind of curricular initiative is to secure a measure
of support from some of the principal players in a university's
central administration. In the case of UCLA, the Provost of the
College of Letters and Science, the Vice Provost for Undergraduate
Education, and the former and current Chancellors were all committed
to strengthening the university's general education curriculum.
Workgroups and Proposals for Change: A key
advantage in securing high-level administrative support for general
education reform is that chancellors and provosts can appoint blue-ribbon
workgroups of department chairs, faculty, and student representatives
to examine the GE curriculum and make broad recommendations for
its improvement. Provost Brian Copenhaver took this approach at
UCLA by appointing two such workgroups in 1994-95 and 1995-96. Out
of these groups came the proposal for a new GE curriculum based
on interdisciplinary general education cluster courses.
Campus Forums: Far-reaching proposals for
curricular change have the potential to generate considerable discussion
among faculty. At UCLA, the idea of a GE curriculum based on cluster
courses generated a series of campus-wide forums. Many of the faculty
who were involved in these discussions later went on participate
in the cluster program.
Funding for GE Initiatives, or "Show me
the money!" While discussion about interdisciplinary education
is important, the provision of tangible rewards for teaching these
kinds of courses is critical in changing faculty attitudes towards
them. The Chancellor allocated permanent funding to strengthen undergraduate
education, which made the cluster initiative possible. This money
allowed us to offer faculty members course releases from departmental
teaching, summer salary for cluster development, graduate student
support, administrative assistance, budgets for social events and
field trips, and public recognition for their participation in the
Cultivating New Communities of Teaching and Learning:
Developing a yearlong collaboratively taught interdisciplinary cluster
course normally takes two years. The complexity of the process underscored
the need to create a supportive community of scholar-teachers skilled
in designing and teaching these courses. To achieve this end, The
Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education submitted a successful
proposal to the Hewlett Foundation for money to fund a range of
programs aimed at engaging 120 to 140 faculty in GE cluster development.
This funding was used from 1994 to 1996 to support a series of workshops
and "affinity group" activities that addressed the challenges
of designing and teaching in interdisciplinary general education
courses. These events featured lectures on the intellectual aims
and consequences of general education such scholars as Joyce Appleby
(UCLA), Alexander W. Astin (UCLA), Leon Lederman (Fermi National
Accelerator Laboratory), Richard Light (Harvard University),
Elizabeth Neufeld (UCLA), Frank Rhodes (Cornell University), John
A Warden III (Venturist, Inc.), Cornel West (Harvard University),
James Q. Wilson (UCLA), and Robert Winter (UCLA). Between 1999 and
2001, 161 faculty members at UCLA participated in these events.
Four of our current eight clusters and their teaching teams emerged
from this process.
Assessing the Cluster Experience: Given the
expense and difficulty of mounting general education interdisciplinary
courses, assessment has been central to the cluster program. The
UCLA undergraduate education evaluation and research office assessed
the experiences of cluster freshmen, graduate student instructors,
and faculty. Its findings have not only confirmed the overall benefits
of this approach to general education, but also provided a wealth
of material regarding the kinds of pedagogical practices that work
best in these kinds of interdisciplinary collaboratively-taught
courses. One recent change acknowledges the writing-intensive nature
of cluster courses, so that beginning in 2002-2003 students who
complete a three-course cluster receive credit for their second
intensive writing course requirement ("Writing II").
While the aforementioned activities enabled us to
successfully launch and maintain our GE cluster program, we have
also learned over the last decade that this kind of curricular reform
is an ongoing, continually-evolving process. In the end, our efforts
to change the practice of teaching and learning in general education
remain a work-in-progress.
For more information, please contact Greg Kendrick
in the UCLA College of Letters and Science (firstname.lastname@example.org)
or see the Web site: http://www.college.ucla.edu/ge/.
Global Change Curriculum
The three-semester, interdisciplinary course sequence
"Introduction to Global Change" at the University of Michigan
is a decade-old journey into inquiry-based, undergraduate curriculum
development. Consultations with academic advisors and teaching experiences
in introductory science courses have made it clear that students
entering the university are often deterred from concentrating in
the sciences because they are unsure of what they would focus on
and instead tend to label themselves as "pre-med" or other
pre-professional titles. By offering two complementary but independent
introductory courses in global change issues at the incoming level,
one offering natural science credit and one offering social science
credit, even students who are only attracted by distribution requirements
are exposed to exciting fields of research and modern scientific
developments, which they might otherwise not have found in a pre-concentration
The activity, originating from the grassroots of
faculty enthusiasm and perceived need, reaches beyond the normal
challenges of undergraduate teaching: it includes a comprehensive
evaluation effort, a dissemination and outreach program, a university-wide
effort to reform undergraduate education, and Web-based interaction
with students. Its aim was the early capture of student interest
in interdisciplinary study. The curriculum draws on the knowledge
and viewpoints of the Departments of Anthropology, Biology, Geology,
and Sociology in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts;
the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Science in the
College of Engineering; the School of Public Health; and the School
of Natural Resources and Environment. Breaking new ground in structure,
content and pedagogical methodology, the sequence has experienced
a steady increase in student enrollment to its current maximum of
250, as well as continued evolution of its intellectual content.
It has attracted widespread attention for its innovative, technology-based
approach and interdisciplinary perspectives. Most notably, the program
offers a "front-loaded" Global Change minor, which engages
motivated students in their first year of study and can be completed
in two or three years; approximately 25 students enroll each year.
Faculty commitment, Graduate Student Instructor
(GSI) involvement and upper-level institutional support have been
central to these achievements. Senior faculty initiated the course,
adding it to their regular course loads. Development has benefited
from the support of the Provost, various Deans, the Vice President
for Research, the G. Whitaker Fund and Center for Research on Learning
and Teaching [http://www.crlt.umich.edu/]
at the University of Michigan, and from external funding from the
National Science Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
The major implementation hurdles stemmed from the
need to overcome departmental barriers for awarding teaching credit
and the extra work entailed by interdisciplinary team-teaching.
Faculty in interdisciplinary courses cannot teach in a vacuum; they
must be familiar not only with their own material but also with
that of the other instructors. This burden is not reflected, however,
in the amount of 'teaching credit' awarded by the University; each
faculty member receives only a percentage of the course rather than
receiving credit for one entire course or, as is the case at some
institutions, double credit - which more accurately reflects the
amount of time and effort required.
The faculty workload was somewhat reduced by the
use of graduate students to help develop and run the labs, put the
lecture notes online, and maintain other technical components. Both
faculty and graduate students attend regular team meetings and retreats,
and conform to a specified format of integrated course topics and
presentations. The courses are taught only by senior faculty with
tenure who do not need to worry about "what the chair thinks"
and can afford to put time into course development. The students'
resulting access to senior faculty is a strong intellectual selling
point for the program.
It is enormously difficult under the current departmental
and divisional structure of most universities to assign teaching
credits to individual faculty members from different departments
who are teaching a course together, especially when the course is
not housed in a specific department. In an ideal world, funding
and teaching load/ FTE allocations would follow individual faculty
members and faculty should be able to teach in any department of
the university without concern for which division or department
will get credit for that teaching. This model is extremely attractive
to Provosts and other high-level administrators, because the bottom-line
numbers do not change. It is unattractive to Deans, however, because
they fear "losing control" of their faculty and losing
enrollment numbers in their departments.
The faculty overcame this challenge through their
dedication and willingness to contribute time and energy as well
as through sheer force of character. They declared their intention
to carry out this initiative and were supported by the Provost,
who recognized the growing importance of interdisciplinarity to
both research and teaching and provided a small budget for summer
salary followed by additional funds in order to sustain the program
once it was established. While outside grants were central to starting
up the new curriculum, developing the minor and capstone experience,
and permitting smaller classes, they do not provide funds to maintain
activities and thus University support was vital to continuing the
In spite of these hurdles, the faculty who initiated
the curriculum felt that it represented a valuable educational opportunity
for students and helped to address the ambivalence between teaching
and research that characterizes the university environment. Science
faculty see increasing interdisciplinary connections in their work
and are increasingly likely to work together; there is also increasing
interest in linking the social sciences to the sciences and to one
another. A new buzzword among scientists is "interdisciplinarity
before disciplinarity," reflecting the need to put the context
first and develop an integrated view before a specialized one. Both
faculty and students benefit from incorporating these connections
into undergraduate education, although in order to do so successfully,
universities need to adjust their existing reward structures and
break down artificial barriers between departments and divisions.
For more information about the Global Change Curriculum,
contact Ben van der Pluijm, Professor of Geology, at email@example.com
or firstname.lastname@example.org, or see the Web site: http://www.globalchange.umich.edu/.
The Global Change Curriculum was also profiled by
the National Institute for Science Education at the University of
Wisconsin. See the Case Study Report, "The University of Michigan's
Global Change I Course: A Technology-Enhanced, Interdisciplinary
Learning Environment": http://www.wcer.wisc.edu/nise/cl1/ilt/case/michigan/michigan.htm.
of Texas at Austin
Connexus: Making Connections in Undergraduate Studies
Connexus was developed to weave together the vast
UT undergraduate curricula and to position students for an education
that reflects the opportunities of a large research university.
Two of its main programs are the Forum Seminars and Bridging Disciplines
Programs. A third program, Connexus Clusters, is in early stages
of development. These approaches to providing an integrative interdisciplinary
experience offer students both one-semester and more extensive options.
Forum Seminars introduce freshmen and sophomores
to the University's resources through weekly discussions with faculty
from a range of departments and research units. Organized around
contemporary social and intellectual issues, these one-hour courses
allow students from a variety of colleges to study complex topics
such as "The Science of Environmental Change" and "Technology
and the Global Community" using interdisciplinary approaches.
The seminars meet for two hours a week during the first half of
the semester and feature discussions with faculty from a variety
of departments. After completing a Forum Seminar, students who seek
a more extensive interdisciplinary experience can move into the
Connexus Clusters and/or the Bridging Disciplines Programs.
Connexus Clusters allow students at all levels,
from freshman to seniors, to take simultaneously 2 or 3 thematically
linked courses in a single semester, using one course-identification
number. Each course within the Cluster typically satisfies an area
requirement. Students who enroll in a Forum Seminar or Connexus
Cluster are well positioned for one of the Bridging Disciplines
The Bridging Disciplines Programs (BDPs) integrate
cross-disciplinary general education with the major by organizing
area requirements, electives, major requirements, internships and
research experiences around an interdisciplinary theme. Each BDP
consists of four-to-six courses that provide multiple disciplinary
perspectives on a topic, along with two to three research and internship
experiences that tie the topic to the student's major. A Government
major, for instance, pursuing a BDP in "Children and Society"
might first enroll in a Connexus Cluster that links the Forum Seminar
on Children and Society with a Sociology course on Juvenile Delinquency.
In subsequent semesters the student could continue to take courses
on children while participating in faculty research on children
and public policy. Later, the student might find an internship with
the Children's Defense Fund. Other BDPs enable students to participate
in faculty research at the University's Environmental Science Institute
or the Population Research Center (http://www.prc.utexas.edu/index.html),
or to study abroad at the Santa Chiara Center in Castiglione Fiorentino,
Italy. Students are encouraged to enroll in a BDP starting in their
freshman or sophomore years, and no later than their junior year;
those completing a BDP receive a certificate at graduation.
Five-to-seven Forum Seminars and ten Connexus Clusters
are currently offered each semester. Enrollment is limited to 50
students per Forum Seminar and 5 to 10 students per Connexus Cluster.
Six BDPs are available. Enrollment in each BDP is limited to 20
additional students per year.
The Forum Seminar, Connexus Cluster, and BDPs Programs
are all organized around six broad interdisciplinary topics: Children
and Society; Cultural Studies; Environment; Ethics and Leadership;
Technology and Society; and Population and Public Policy. The topics
reflect areas of abundant course offerings, innovative faculty research,
and long-standing cross-disciplinary collaboration. Thus the programs
take full advantage of existing resources. The only new, specially
created courses are the Forum Seminars, which form the building
blocks introducing students to the Cluster and BDP Programs. Each
BDP area was developed with the help of an eight-to-ten-person multi-disciplinary
faculty panel convened by the Provost's office. One or two BDP panel
members lead the Forum Seminar and all panel members review students'
applications and assist BDP students in finding research opportunities
The impetus to create Connexus with its array of programs came from
Provost Sheldon Ekland-Olson. In spring 2000, he and Vice Provost
Lucia Gilbert assembled a cross-college group of faculty committed
to rethinking undergraduate education. The Provost charged the committee
to develop initiatives that would enhance the first year experience
and integrate and define a student's education at UT Austin. Rather
than create numerous new courses or add hours to a student's degree,
the faculty conceived of the Connexus programs as roadmaps through
UT's already rich curriculum, a means to help students construct
meaningful intellectual narratives that would connect their studies
across disciplines and across all four years of their undergraduate
experience. The ideas for all three programs emerged from these
discussions. Two Forum Seminars taught by members of this faculty
group and the Vice Provost were piloted in fall 2000. The first
BDP program, Technology and Society, was organized in spring 2001.
Overcoming Pitfalls and Hurdles
The Provost's leadership was key to the effort;
his visible support was crucial in attracting faculty participation.
Improving undergraduate education is a priority of President Faulkner
as well. The participation of the University's top administrators
helped to publicize the initiative and enlist the participation
of a variety of units on campus.
Other steps that were important to the process included:
· Identifying priority areas that would interest faculty
and encourage student buy-in (e.g., providing undergraduates in
oversubscribed majors with additional options; connecting entering
students to a range of possible areas of study; developing BDPs
in areas of high interest to the campus).
· Articulating a vision early on and communicating that vision
with a handsome logo, a brochure, a Web site, and presentations
to university leadership groups and individual deans and department
· Being action-oriented and building in short-term accomplishments
such as piloting Forum Seminars in the first year.
· Judiciously using faculty time so that every meeting marked
· Building in modest incentives for faculty participation.
Faculty who are instructors for Forum Seminars or who chair a faculty
panel receive a modest research stipend. All Forum Seminars have
Teaching Assistants. We also assist BDP faculty with grants in cross-disciplinary
· Developing a strong staff infrastructure, including appointing
a coordinator for the BDP Program, and linking that infrastructure
to the faculty. A member of the Connexus faculty advisory board
is a member of each BDP panel.
The difficulties for the future lie in sustaining
the programs at a time of tight budgets. The program received two-year
funding from one foundation and the administration is in the process
of applying for additional funding.
For more information, contact Paige Schilt, Bridging
Disciplines Program Coordinator, or Lucia Gilbert, Vice Provost,
(email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org) or see the Web
If you have a general
education program you would like listed on the Resources page, please
send us a brief description (250 words
maximum). Be sure to include the name of the program as well as a link
to a Web site or the name and email address of a contact person.
We invite you to take the lead in framing future
Thoughts and Models.
If you're interested and have a "Thought" in mind, please
send us an e-mail: reinvention@MIAMI.EDU. We will identify "models"
that relate to it.
The Thought will consist of a short essay focusing
on an issue central to undergraduate education at research universities.
The specific topic to be addressed may vary. It may for example relate
to an institutional challenge, an aspect of student learning, a societal
need, or a recent research finding that may influence the way undergraduate
education generally or in a specific discipline is conceived and delivered
at research universities.
Each Thought will be accompanied by reports
on programs and experiences that exemplify or expand upon the Thought.
The models will be drawn from different research universities, utilize
different strategies, and, to the extent possible, focus on different
disciplines. Collectively, they will become part of a database that will
yield insights into what works or does not work and why.
and Models will be incorporated into reports to be distributed through
this web site, professional society newsletters and our own mailings.
We welcome your comments
and look forward to hearing from you.