Innovation in Education: Adding New Courses for Student Engagement and Career Preparation
Exciting changes and additions to the curriculum are on the horizon. As Dean works to continue expanding the baccalaureate culture, many new courses have been added, programs have been restructured and projects have been implemented to meet student needs and interests and better prepare them for the future.
“Our goal is to be responsive to what students need to know and to help them be competitive and successful in the path they’ve chosen for themselves, whether that is going directly into the world of work or to graduate school,” said Melissa Read, assistant vice president of academic affairs and assistant professor of social sciences. “The more opportunities we give them to be hands-on and experiential, the better prepared they’ll be. We’re asking: what are we seeing in the marketplace, what are we hearing from employers, what are we seeing at the grad school level and what do we know of our own students and their aspirations?”
Driven by this goal, the faculty have added courses that are more relevant to student interest and need and archived courses that no longer serve their function. To get there, the College uses a combination of student feedback, faculty expertise and assessment data. Faculty regularly look at their curriculum to see what’s working and what’s not, and they stay up-to-date on what’s happening in their fields. They listen to what students’ goals and career paths are, and help identify what students need to get there. The College also looks at data on student outcomes, assessment of all-College learning goals, comparable institutions, accreditation standards and more. The faculty was also recently tasked with coming up with innovative ideas, proposing projects for funding through the Rooney Shaw Center for Innovation in Teaching and collaborating on interdisciplinary programs.
The result is a host of new courses that will join the academic catalog for the upcoming 2023-2024 academic year. Some programs have been restructured entirely to better meet industry needs and standards. For example, the Pre-Law major is expanding writing intensive credits and introducing a course on logic to better prepare students for the communication skills needed in law school. A new course called Mock Trial and Moot Court will be offered for the first time in Spring 2024, to give students practice with being a trial attorney. In the Marketing major, courses have been revised to differentiate it from traditional business offerings and focus more on current marketing trends, such as digital marketing and brand management.
Other programs are refreshing their offerings based on student interest, faculty expertise and gaps in the curriculum. English majors and enthusiasts will be able to take new courses focusing on true crime, queer identities in literature, artificial intelligence and science fiction. History courses have been expanded to include thematic offerings on the Civil War and rotating topics on nationalism in non-U.S. countries. Exercise Science classes have started focusing more on strength and conditioning.
These courses are designed to help students not only deepen their knowledge base in the major but broaden it through upper-division courses, as well as improve their preparation for life after Dean. In many of these courses, just like with others throughout the entire academic catalog, students are able to take what they’re learning in the classroom and apply it to real-world scenarios. Whether that’s creating tangible projects like a marketing plan or digital publication, presenting at conferences or participating in research with faculty, students get valuable experience that mirrors what they’ll find in their future profession.
“We’re working to increase the number of courses in the disciplines for every major that are career intensive,” explained Read. “They’re designed to have students do what they would do in that particular field, and that the work they do in that course and the project or product they create is something that’s resume-worthy. Students will come away with projects they can put on their resumes or LinkedIn profiles.”
These efforts are also a way of reinforcing what students are learning in the classroom.
“Our programs are striking a balance of integrating theory with experience, which helps students learn the actual content,” explained Brad Hastings, dean of the School of Liberal Arts. “You’re learning about theories, research, novels or historical approaches, and now you’re doing something with it. That not only allows you to build a skill that you can use in the career marketplace, but it also reinforces a lot of material you learned in class.”
This is a theme that is increasingly important as students not only prepare to enter the workforce, but to go on to graduate school, especially in the liberal arts. Many students enrolled in majors like exercise science, biology, the social sciences and the humanities find they have an interest in additional education or need an advanced degree to pursue their chosen career path.
“An increasing number of students are pursuing graduate-level work and post-secondary and professional degrees,” said Hastings. “We’re trying to develop courses and tracks that directly tie to student interest, either in application, in careers or in graduate school.”
Another common theme is the frequency with which recent graduates will change jobs or choose new careers. One of Dean’s goals is to make sure they’re prepared for no matter what path they end up on.
“As a liberal arts school, I want to make sure that students come away with a broad background and are able to see things through different perspectives,” said Scott Sibley, vice president of academic affairs. “We’re looking at courses that are not solely focused on content, but on answering questions and being more active in their learning. If we can keep working on critical thinking skills, that prepares them for any job – not just the career path they think they may go into, but setting them up for success if they change their mind.”
As these courses hit the ground running, the College will continually review, assess and adapt to changing needs in order to stay current and encourage innovation. And of course, the changes and growth to the curriculum won’t end here. Sibley noted that potential future initiatives may include new programs, new majors, new interdisciplinary projects, more innovation grants for faculty and expanding study abroad and global learning opportunities. It’s all designed to respond to what students need to succeed.
“Education is not what it was 100 years ago, or even 20 years ago,” said Sibley. “Many disciplines are changing, and the lines are being blurred. I love interdisciplinary courses, more problem-based learning, and more questioning rather than just information gathering to build those critical thinking skills.”
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