Reports from the Core Implementation Committee

Report of Committee Activities Spring Semester 2021

The FEC created the Core Implementation Committee in May 2020 to implement the new Core Curriculum passed by the faculty in April 2020. Bill Alves and Liz Orwin chaired this committee, which also included Anna Ahn, Art Benjamin, Sharon Gerbode, Vivien Hamilton, Matt Spencer, and Katherine Van Heuvelen. CCD Ben Wiedermann and registrar Mark Ashley served ex-officio on the committee. This document summarizes the activities of the committee during the spring semester of 2021 and follows a similar report on our activities during summer and fall of 2020.

During the fall semester, we determined that the first year of the new Core would not be implemented by fall 2021, and we focused on two priorities with subcommittees for both: the recalibration of the way we award credit in the Core and the new Core course on the relationship of STEM and society, known as the “Impact Course.”

Awarding Credit in the Core

The document passed by the faculty in April 2020 requires that students be able to complete the new Core by taking a minimum of four courses plus labs in each of the first four semesters. Electives would be available after the first semester but not required in order to maintain progress toward graduation. Furthermore, the document stated that existing Core courses should not increase student workload nor should required credits increase in the third and fourth years. Without any changes to the way in which we award credit in the Core, these requirements would decrease the credits to graduate from 128 to 115.5, which is below the 120 credits expected by our accreditor, WSCUC, for a bachelor’s degree.

The CIC in the fall semester and the first half of the spring extensively researched data to see if we could make the credit awarded more accurately and consistently reflect the actual work done or expected in Core courses. We reviewed data provided to us by the OIRE and Wendy Menefee-Libey and met with departments to discuss various proposals of how these changes would bring us to the 120 credits to graduate without increasing workload or non-Core requirements.

As a result of these meetings and discussions, we brought a set of proposals to the FEC: first to increase credit awarded to four Core courses: Math 19 (beginning in F21), Writ 1 (beginning in F21), Engineering 79 (beginning in F22), and Physics 24 (beginning in S23). We also proposed that the maximum number of credits in a normal load in the first semester be reduced to 17 beginning in fall 2022. The class entering in fall 2021 would take the current Core in their first year (though with these new credits) and the new Core in their second year. The class entering in fall 2022 would take the new Core in both years, as would future classes. These changes were approved by the FEC and required no other faculty approval since they fall under the proposals passed by the faculty in spring 2020.

The CIC presented these changes to the faculty at a special faculty meeting on March 18, 2021. At the same meeting we presented three further motions that needed to be passed by faculty vote. The first proposed to decrease the number of credits to graduate from 128 to 120. The second proposed to require students who wish to graduate under the requirements of a later catalogue to petition the Scholarly Standing Committee (so that this reduction in credits to graduate only applies to those students taking the new Core). The third was to require that one of the required PE credits be taken in the first two years, so that the minimum credits in the first two years be sufficient to add up to 120 if the required credits in the last two years don’t change. These three motions were passed by the faculty.

Members of the CIC and other faculty have noted that, although these changes successfully reconcile the awarding of credits with the requirements of our accreditor, they leave in place some inconsistencies between how credits are counted inside and outside of the Core and how they are counted among the Claremont Colleges. Although these questions lay outside of the charge of this committee, we suggested that the College begin a conversation about workload and the definition of a credit throughout the four-year curriculum, especially in light of an upcoming WSCUC reaccreditation process.

The Impact Course

In fall 2020, the CIC surveyed faculty and held a workshop on ideas for the Impact Course. Faculty showed support for several different models, learning goals, and topics and confirmed their enthusiasm for a focus on the relationship of STEM and society. Faculty showed significant support for interdisciplinarity and drawing upon Core skills, but no single topic or model stood out as a clear favorite. In order to narrow the discussion, the CIC decided to focus on specific learning goals, defining interdisciplinarity, and single versus multiple topics in another faculty meeting and workshop on February 9, 2021 attended by 43 faculty.

Based on faculty responses from this survey and meetings, the CIC concluded that faculty expressed significant support for including expertise from both STEM and HSA faculty members within the classroom and a common framework between sections. Several different topics showed support, and, depending on the model adopted, topics aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Climate change and social justice issues have strong support among both faculty and some students, but participants raised other topics as possibilities as well. Among the models, some way to support group discussions was popular, a large lecture class with no breakout sections had the least support, and some faculty proposed a project-based capstone experience.

CIC members suggested that more specific discussions of models was premature until the committee agreed upon learning goals. The CIC eventually identified these goals as priorities. Students should:

  • Explore the historical and contemporary relationships between science and society,
  • Appreciate how personal and professional actions impact the world, and
  • Reflect on the moral, social, and ethical implications of their work.

In addition, the CIC identified the following as potential goals. Students should:

  • Apply knowledge across disciplines to solve problems, and
  • Communicate clearly to multiple audiences.

The CIC found that the interdependencies of goals, content, and staffing made the development of models especially challenging and might be best left up to a group of faculty likely to teach the course. This group would use the summer 2021 to develop a pilot (of some kind) for spring 2022 with the ultimate goal of implementing the Impact Course on the CIC’s timeline of spring 2023. Rather than over-constraining their charge, the CIC decided to provide this summer Impact Course Development Team (ICDT) with the above series of goals, the results of our faculty feedback, and the results of student feedback, which included some unsolicited emails and the results of student focus groups organized in May.

We solicited faculty participation in the ICDT and successfully recruited a core team of six who agreed to the equivalent of three weeks of full time summer work on this project plus a larger group of about ten who volunteered to offer input and feedback. The charge for the ICDT included the further development of learning goals, the development of the pilot course (however construed), engagement with other faculty and students, estimates of resources required, and recommendation of timelines.

When planning for this course development process back in fall, the CIC had tentatively planned for the presentation of possible models to the faculty at an April faculty meeting. Because the development of models is instead being handed off to the ICDT, this meeting would become merely informational. The CIC decided instead to send out a document outlining the expectations and charge to the ICDT to the faculty and cancel the April special faculty meeting.

Plans for 2021-22

In anticipation of a pilot version of the Impact Course in spring 2022, the first priority of the CIC in the fall will be reviewing the accomplishments of the summer ICDT and determining what still needs to happen in order to support their plans. We will need to discuss staffing, assessment, resource needs, and student incentives to take the pilot or pilots, as well as sunrise and sunset dates for this version of the Impact Course.

The CIC will also need to continue our work overseeing the college’s readiness implementing the new Core, including working with departments, the DCC, CCD, ADAA, and the registrar on major pathways and other downstream impacts. Some departments have already made significant progress in identifying pathways for their majors in various circumstances. We will also need to identify backup options for students who do not pass Core requirements on schedule.

At the March faculty meeting, the CIC promised the faculty that we would “…implement a mechanism to continually audit student academic time commitments and instructor expectations relative to credits awarded for classes. This auditing body can recommend adjustments consistent with the Core proposal passed in spring 2020 and with the expectations of our accreditors.” The spring 2020 CRC document asks the CIC to “develop a method to assess and enforce the consistency of student workload in the Core, both in class and out of class” and that the CIC “explore mechanisms for oversight of the Core to ensure that non-departmental courses (e.g. Impact Courses) are adequately staffed, workload in each course remains in an appropriate range, and that departments work together to build meaningful connections between Core courses.”

This mechanism also implies the need for regular assessment of the Core, and the CIC will need to work with the OIRE and the Assessment Committee on a plan to assess the effectiveness of the new Core going forward.

Finally, the CIC will need to explore options for course grading in the Core. The current High Pass/Pass/No Credit grading scheme used in the first semester may no longer be a fair option if students no longer take the same Core courses in the first semester.

These items will need to be presented to the full faculty, and the CIC should work with the FEC to determine what issues need to be voted on by which bodies. Because I as chair expect that proposals will not be complete until the spring semester, I have requested no special CIC faculty meetings for the fall, but I expect that we will need to present some items in such a context in spring 2022. Of course, as always, the CIC needs to continue to update the full faculty and individual departments on our progress. We will continue to publicly post approved minutes, report to FEC and the full faculty when appropriate, and report to departments through our membership.

Report of Committee Activities Fall Semester 2020

In April 2020, the Harvey Mudd College faculty passed a proposal for a new Core curriculum known as “Four Courses Plus Electivity,” which revised some current Core requirements so that students could complete the Core by taking only four courses plus labs for each of their first four semesters. Students could then add electives after the first semester but would not be required to do so in order to graduate. Although the proposal document voted on by the faculty includes an outline of the new Core curriculum, some important decisions regarding its implementation were left up to a new Core Implementation Committee. In the summer of 2020, the co-chairs, Liz Orwin and Bill Alves, began work on these questions with the current Core Curriculum Director Ben Wiedermann and the full committee started meeting with the beginning of the fall semester.

In addition to co-chairs Orwin and Alves, the Core Implementation Committee consists of representatives from all departments: Anna Ahn (biology), Kathy Van Heuvelen (chemistry), Art Benjamin (mathematics), Sharon Gerbode (physics), Matt Spencer (engineering) and Vivien Hamilton (humanities, social sciences, and the arts). Wiedermann (computer science) and Mark Ashley (registrar) will also serve ex-officio.

Timeline

One of our first tasks has been to gather and articulate the committee’s tasks and priorities, so this preliminary report is an outline of some of those issues we need to discuss. A year ago, when the new Core proposals were coalescing, many faculty expected that the College would be able to roll out a new Core in the fall of 2021. The pandemic has caused us to re-evaluate that ambitious timeline because the faculty are overwhelmed with the many challenges brought by these circumstances. In recognition of these difficulties, the Faculty Executive Committee asked all committees to rethink our expectations for this academic year. A fall 2021 roll-out would also require some departments to develop new courses or significantly revise existing ones, and they are unlikely to have the time and resources to do complete such a task by that date. Therefore, it is unlikely that the new Core will be completely in place for fall 2021, but the Implementation Committee is exploring the possibility of piloting or phasing in parts of the new Core prior to a complete change.

Credit

A crucial part of this Core revision, for many perhaps its most distinctive reform, is the re-evaluation of workload and the number of required courses. The faculty passed a proposal that states that students should be able to graduate while taking only the minimum required courses in the first four semesters, that the workload of existing courses in the Core should not change, and that non-Core requirements not increase. The Core proposal asks the Implementation Committee to reconcile these requirements with the number of credits needed to graduate and with the expectations of our accrediting agency. The Implementation Committee could take a close look at how we award credit to courses or propose alternative ways to count credit. The committee will need to work out such issues before we can answer other open questions, such as how the new Core will affect pathways to majors, student electivity in the Core and other impacts on departments.

Impact Course

One component of the new Core that has generated much enthusiasm is a new course in the fourth semester that will focus explicitly on issues of the relationships of science and technology and society, which planners began calling the “Impact Course” last year. Although certain proposed models for this course have generated excitement in the community, the exact nature of this course, its content, and how it will be sustained remain open questions. It could be a single course for all students, a menu of courses or another model. These conversations could include a variety of important questions, including issues of social justice. The Core Implementation Committee has been asked to engage with the community to create workable models to propose to the faculty, and we will be forming a subcommittee to work in parallel on these issues. This fall we will gather and review initial ideas about possible content and models so that we can work with and get feedback from the community through the spring semester.

Core Oversight

One foundation of our curricular planning is the assessment of the Core. The Core Review Planning Team developed a goal statement for the Core that the faculty approved in December 2017. The Assessment Committee has started the process of articulating specific learning outcomes based on these goals and mapping those outcomes to individual courses. The Core Implementation Committee will then take up the more general issues of assessment of the Core, probably in spring 2021. Assessment is just one part of the oversight of the Core, and the Implementation Committee has been asked to propose structures for ongoing Core oversight. The Core revision gives the college an opportunity to reimagine how departments and cross-departmental courses can collaborate and make connections that cross disciplinary boundaries while continuing to nurture intellectual curiosity and the joy of learning. We intend to find structures that ensure the sustainability of the Core and in particular interdepartmental courses and cross-disciplinary work.

Resources

The sustainability of these exciting initiatives may depend on new resources, and the Implementation Committee needs to identify our needs, for short-term startup and development as well as long-term staffing and other requirements.

Transparency and communication

The Faculty Executive Committee has scheduled the Core Implementation Committee to report at faculty meetings three times in the fall semester. The FEC has also approved guidelines to determine whether any CIC proposals need approval, either by the FEC or the full faculty. We will also give regular updates to the Board of Trustees. Representatives of the CIC will meet with the Alumni Association Board of Governors and with ASHMC. The CIC also plans to issue regular written reports, of which this is the first, to be shared with the full community of faculty, administration, staff, students and alumni.