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A New Take on Core Education

Deeper Thinking and Learning

Every school has them - the required classes each student must take in order to graduate. But they typically get a bad rap - "basic, don't go with my major, uninteresting."

Lasell students this Fall have a whole new view of the College's core education because those requisite courses have not only been turned on their heads, but inside out and back.

The idea - four years in the making - was to create a new core set of courses that all students could experience from freshman through senior years - building on their knowledge base and providing hands-on work that fits better with the Lasell's Connected Learning philosophy.

"Our new approach, instead of conceiving the core as solely the development of basic skills and background knowledge, threads coursework throughout the student's entire educational career at Lasell," says James Ostrow, vice president for Academic Affairs, adding, "It also ensures the students have interdisciplinary experiences that allow them to see how fields intersect with one another in understanding and responding to issues and problems beyond the classroom."

Other higher educational institutions - under pressure to improve graduation rates and better prepare students for the working world - have increasingly undertaken the endeavor of rewriting and configuring core educational courses, but Lasell's underlying goal goes deeper.

"It's more consistent with what we espouse philosophically," Ostrow tells Leaves.

Associate Professor of History Dennis Frey (see page 7), who led the initiative among the faculty, says it is incumbent upon colleges and universities to keep up with the times - and prepare students for the types of jobs that will be available to them in today's marketplace.

"It is an effort to make higher education - with structures in place since the 19th and 20th centuries - more meaningful for people who no longer work in the ways or at the jobs that existed then," says Frey.

To that end, Lasell students will now take courses that emphasize multidisciplinary thinking, ethics and problem solving that dovetail with the hands-on learning experiences Lasell is known for.

A New Structure

The new Core Curriculum is built on a set of 14 student learning outcomes representing three goals: Core Intellectual Skills, Knowledge Perspectives, and Synthesis and Application. The outcomes, which include working in collaborative settings, writing clear, well-organized and persuasive prose, and applying the process of scientific inquiry to solve problems (among others), are integrated across all majors.

Lasell faculty helped create the new core, informing the process through general education review, consideration of institutional values, and analyzing information from business and professional leaders about skills graduates need.

"The idea is to help students connect the core learning skills to one another and to their major as they progress along their four years," says Associate Professor of Environmental Science Michael Daley, who was instrumental in the multidisciplinary course design.

Structuring the new courses are four Knowledge Perspectives that guide student learning:
Aesthetics and Creativity, Scientific Inquiry and Problem Solving, Global and Historical Perspectives, and Individuals and Society.

Deeper Thinking and Learning

Among the specific changes students have seen is a redesigned First Year Seminar that uses a variety of engaging themes -- such as Exploring Activism-Changing Our World or a film-focused Challenging Hollywood course -- to explore the core intellectual goals and Knowledge Perspectives.

Faculty worked together to incorporate these skills, and common expectations about workload, into their courses, while maintaining the individual creative aspect of FYS.

"The best parts of FYS - the freedom for faculty to choose a theme that they're passionate about, the small class size, peer mentors, and field trips - have not changed," says Michelle Niestepski, assistant professor of Humanities, one of a group of faculty who worked on the FYS structure.

A new element to sophomore year is a Multidisciplinary Course that introduces a social or intellectual problem (such as sustainable cities) that cannot be addressed from a single knowledge perspective.

According to Daley, the sophomore class is considered an intermediate step in learning where students are immersed in a setting that clearly connects two core areas.

"We think this course will help students practice applying multiple lenses to a problem," he adds.

Daley and Associate Professor of Psychology Lori Rosenthal previously piloted a multidisciplinary course called Persuading People, Preserving Planet that served as a model for these courses going forward. In that course students explore environmental challenges and learn how behavioral change is critical to fostering a sustainable planet.

A new Ethics Experience course, usually taken in the junior year, challenges students to analyze and grapple with real, current moral dilemmas and their complex ethical solutions by connecting cultural and historical ways of understanding ethical thinking with professional standards.

Then, in their last two years, students will further explore at least one of the Knowledge Perspectives in an upper-level Explorations course.

At the heart of those upper-level courses is a focus on encouraging students to evaluate and understand how individual differences and societal contexts impact human behavior, beliefs, values, interactions and emotional and intellectual processes, says Assistant Professor of Psychology Sarabeth Golden, who worked on the creation and implementation of the Knowledge Perspectives.

"We really want students to come to understand the dynamic exchange between a person and the society they live in," Golden tells Leaves.

For example, one assignment in a revised Psychology course has students acting as mini-behavior therapists on themselves by attempting to change a habit using principles of behaviorism. When they analyze their results they have to reflect on individual, as well as societal, factors that influenced success.

Capstone and Internship Experiences serve as the culmination of the Core Curriculum with the idea that through hands-on learning - a cornerstone of Lasell's educational philosophy -- students will be well-prepared for what awaits them after graduation.

"I think students will gain a deeper, broader, more sophisticated appreciation for the world's problems," says Golden. "and a stronger ability to tackle them."

Which is exactly what the world is expecting from today's graduates.

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