A Meaningful Curriculum
Consequently, we must highlight and reinforce the meaningful nature of our curriculum. Many existing courses at the University already incorporate this pedagogical strategy, linking graded “real projects” to “real-world” issues.(29) The cluster approach (as explained above) provides yet another flexible method, one reflecting existing interdisciplinary programs (like that of the College of General Studies) and compatible with goals set out by the College of Arts & Sciences’ First-Year Task Force Report.
This emphasis on relevance and applicability can be accomplished by reorganizing existing courses in the liberal arts and in the professional schools that deal with global issues, including topics such as domestic violence, poverty, and race. Indeed, our students often pursue internships with non-profit and community-action organizations, and their popularity testifies to our students’ desire to link intern work and classroom expectations. BU students are active in national organizations that seek involved and socially aware students through on-campus groups. Some examples include Model United Nations, World Affairs Forum, and the Women’s Resource Center, as well as community service groups such as United Students for Africa, Alternative Spring Break, and the recently established chapter of Project Health. Because these groups also include deans, faculty, and staff, they collapse the boundaries between expert and novice, specialist and trainee, allowing a mutual exchange of learning, problem-solving, and contributive action.
An informed faculty can link class assignments, papers, and research projects to the service and volunteer work of their students to open the channels between the classroom and the real world. Permitting students more opportunities outside their major course of study lets them integrate their specific disciplines into service work, internships, and research. Such opportunities also offer students the rewards that are found in taking risks with what they know and what they can do with that knowledge.
Examples like the art installation project in footnote 13 were formulated by the interactions of faculty and students across disciplines. The result was widely viewed as appealing to a broad spectrum of students across art, engineering, and computer science. It leverages Boston University’s creativity and research strengths and involves students in the discovery process. Its successful completion will likely lead to a more visible showcasing of undergraduate research at BU and will have a positive impact on recruiting.
Recommendations for Clusters
- We recommend that all BU undergraduates combine and consolidate knowledge from at least three courses taught by different colleges or departments in order to impart knowledge of a single topic through varied approaches, and to understand the strengths and limitations of disciplinary approaches to big questions and complex problems. The creation of these clusters will be part of the agenda of the newly created Integration & Accessibility Committee.
- Design a campus-wide Cluster Course environment as part of a BU General Education, anchored, if possible, to the Writing Program.
29. For instance COM 321 (Spring 2009), a course in research methodologies, required students to design a new and more effective donation volunteer campaign for The Greater Boston Food Bank. Students “experienced” more than the strict abstractions of scholarship, since an additional requirement stipulated they use a week’s worth of food stamps to feed themselves. Professors Malley-Morrison (Psychology) and Corgan (International Relations) team-teach a class in which students confront different societies’ definitions of concepts like “human rights,” “criminality,” and “punishments,” all of which may register on different scales depending on the culture. Malley-Morrison and Corgan describe their classes as world-peace projects; their goals depend on designing new definitions (for information and for action).