Scenario 1: Learning Goals Menu—Foundational Competencies

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Main Concept

Provides for a clear and coherent menu of distribution requirements, which directly match learning goals and express the educational mission of the college with succinctness and intentionality.

Rationale

Rationalizing the distribution requirements presents a significant opportunity to change the undergraduate experience in the College, but is nevertheless a reform that affirms our history and identity. It retains the menu model for distribution requirements, thus intentionally sustaining the structure that highlights a recognized feature of a Cornell undergraduate education in regard to openness of choice, while rationalizing the system through an articulation of the theory and practice that structures it.

The core pedagogical principle behind the menu system of distribution requirements is that students should become proficient in the set of competencies. Rationalizing the system involves two things: explicitly defining those competencies, and then tying that definition directly and effectively to a delimited set of curricular opportunities.

As a result, the College will be able to describe to undergraduates the goals and purpose of a liberal arts undergraduate education, and then point to a set of curricular requirements that specifically and particularly reflect those goals. Such a reform simultaneously establishes a more coherent vision of the undergraduate experience (which facilitates communication with students) and adjusts the curriculum to reflect that vision.

Three Possible Visions

Rationalizing the distribution requirements requires agreement about the purpose of a liberal arts undergraduate education. Here, we outline three possible models or visions that reflect different ways of conceiving that purpose. These three models are samples; there are many other possible ways to envision our educational purpose, and no model is complete.

I. Five Core Competencies Vision

One vision looks across the current tripartite distribution requirements system, and pulls out from them a more basic framework for undergraduate education. We might distill six components (from the current CAS system), and represent those as mastery of (1) effective communication, (2) abstract or symbolic reasoning, (3) historical awareness, (4) cross-cultural awareness, (5) social science, and (6) scientific analysis. Implementing this rationalization of the distributional requirements system will require re-categorizing all of the courses currently offered in the College to fit into one or more of the latter five categories, letting Effective Communication stand alone, as the Writing requirement does currently.

Students will be required to complete a Writing requirement and two courses in each of these five distributional areas.

Optional change: take one course in each of the five areas.

II. Modern Liberal Arts Vision

In the classical tradition, the seven sciences and humanities were music, arithmetic, geometry, astrology, grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Times have changed. Extrapolating from the classical tradition, a modern liberal arts curriculum might include (1) creative practice, (2) quantitative reasoning, (3) logic, (4) inquiry, (5) effective communication. These five “modern liberal arts” fields collapse the classical categories of arithmetic and geometry into one category of quantitative reasoning, and grammar and rhetoric into one category of effective communication. The division between quantitative reasoning and logic recognizes a difference between fields such as mathematics and statistics (across the sciences and social sciences), on the one hand, and formal or symbolic reasoning in fields such as computer science, logic, formal linguistics, formal social sciences, and music theory on the other. 

Implementing this rationalization of the distribution requirements system will require re-categorizing all of the courses currently offered in the College to fit into one or more of these five categories.

Students will be required to complete two courses in each of these five distributional areas.

Optional change: take one course in each of the five areas.

III. Learning Goals Vision

Learning Goals- Plan A

A final option involves a direct connection with the set of liberal arts learning goals that is currently the basis of the liberal educational mission:

(1) critical thinking

(2) integrative and synthetic thinking

(3) ethical values

(4) intercultural knowledge

(5) civic awareness/engagement

(6) quantitative reasoning

(7) scientific literacy

(8) persuasive expression

(9) discovery

In this option, these goals are tied directly to the distribution requirements. Implementing this rationalization of the distribution requirements system will require assessing how all of the courses currently offered in the College might fulfill one or more of these nine goals, and then re-categorizing all of the courses, into the respective categories. There are two ways to imagine how to translate these learning goals into requirements. One strategy is to emphasize breadth, and require students to complete one course in each of these nine areas. Another is to allow for a more focused individual learning plan, in which students complete ten courses covering at least six of these learning goals. A challenge of this model is that learning goals such as “discovery” and “integrative and synthetic thinking” are difficult to match to particular courses—ideally, every course at Cornell should accomplish these things.

Learning Goals-Plan B

Another way to translate these nine learning goals into distribution requirements is to both emphasize breadth and also encourage individualized criteria for meeting the goals.  For example, a subgroup of core or definitional learning goals might be defined, and then linked to specific required courses. For instance, this subgroup might include the four learning goals of intercultural (both across time and space) knowledge, quantitative reasoning, scientific literacy, and persuasive expression; each of these learning goals would then be tied to a (potentially rotating or at least periodically updated) roster of courses that fulfill that learning goal. Then the five learning goals of critical thinking, integrative and synthetic thinking, ethical values, civic awareness/engagement, and discovery might be considered “flexible” in that the student would be able to consider suggested courses as well as themselves identify other courses that would respectively fulfill each of these goals. This choice would be made in consultation with the student’s advisor, and would encourage an individualized curriculum to meet these flexible goals. 

Concrete Example

Below, we outline how the  graduation requirements would change under one possible implementation of a Rationalized Distributions model. We choose, arbitrarily, Model I above.

Current College system

Rationalized system-Model I

Two first-year writing seminars (FWS). 

One first-year writing seminar (FWS). 

Foreign language requirement. A student must either pass an intermediate Cornell language course at the 2000-level or above or complete at least 11 credits in a single foreign language at Cornell.

Foreign language requirement. A student must either pass an intermediate Cornell language course at the 2000-level or above or complete at least 11 credits in a single foreign language at Cornell.

Distribution requirements:

  • Four courses in Physical & Biological Sciences (PBS) and Mathematics & Quantitative Reasoning (MQR): Students must take 2 courses in Physical & Biological Sciences (PBS), 1 in Mathematics & Quantitative Reasoning (MQR), and 1 course that is either in PBS or MQR.
  • Five Arts & Sciences courses of 3 or more credits from at least 4 of the following social sciences, humanities, and arts categories:

            --Cultural Analysis (CA-AS)
            --Historical Analysis (HA-AS)
            --Knowledge, Cognition, & Moral Reasoning (KCM-AS)
            --Literature & the Arts (LA-AS)
            --Social & Behavioral Analysis (SBA-AS)

 

Distribution requirements: two courses each in

  • abstract or symbolic reasoning
  • historical awareness
  • cross-cultural awareness
  • scientific analysis
  • social and behavioral analysis

 

Additionally, one additional course in effective communication to complement the FWS. This may be another FWS, or a course in rhetoric or performance

Breadth requirements:

  • Geographic breadth requirement (GB): One course that focuses on an area or a people other than those of the United States, Canada, or Europe. Courses fulfilling this requirement are marked with a GB in the Course Roster and Courses of Study.
  • Historic breadth requirement (HB): One course that focuses on an historic period before the 20th century. Courses fulfilling this requirement are marked with an HB in the Course Roster and Courses of Study.

TBD (see Essential Components)

Major

Major

Electives: Four or five courses (totaling at least 15 credits), not used to fulfill other requirements and not in the major field.

Electives: Four or five courses (totaling at least 15 credits), not used to fulfill other requirements and not in the major field.

Learning Goals

rationalized breadth menu system meets liberal arts learning goals by requiring students to take courses that match some of these learning goals, meanwhile preserving the flexibility for students to meet other learning goals through their major and elective courses. Learning goals of quantitative reasoning, scientific literacy, and persuasive expression are required under any vision offered above, whereas others such as intercultural knowledge or civic awareness are only required under specific visions. 

Essential Components

These areas below reflect specific, focused educational items or goals that will be relevant to this scenario. They may involve particular pragmatic dimensions or consequences, or require specific organizational planning within or beyond the college.

  1. Capstone or “culminating experience” (variously defined)
    E.g. encourage capstones within majors, or create a set of “common experiences” options where students can apply their liberal arts education in a variety of ways.
     
  2. Community engaged learning and/or research
    See the “civic awareness/engagement” learning goal (Liberal Education Learning Goals).
     
  3. Diversity and inclusion
    See the “intercultural knowledge/multicultural competency” learning goal (Liberal Education Learning Goals).
     
  4. Experiential learning
    Options include: undergraduate research, capstone projects, community-engaged experience, study abroad experience, field work.
     
  5. Global education or study abroad
    See the “intercultural knowledge” learning goal (Liberal Education Learning Goals).
     
  6. Persuasive Expression/writing/communication
    See the “persuasive expression” learning goal (Liberal Education Learning Goals).
     
  7. Language requirement
     
  8. Quantitative reasoning
     
  9. Sexual violence prevention
    Note the role of student affairs in supporting/shaping this aim.
     
  10. Online education

Feedback

Please comment. General and specific responses to individual Scenarios are especially useful. You might also propose a hybrid “scenario” based on two of the given scenarios, or a significantly different sort of “scenario,” not represented here.

Review Scenario Two.

Review Scenario Three.