As the university prepares to open the new McDonough School of Business building and to select new deans of the College and the School of Foreign Service, university officials have published a report, which will be distributed to the Georgetown community next week, offering strategies to change and improve the undergraduate curriculum.

According to University Provost James O’Donnell, the report, “A Call to Action: Curriculum and Learning at Georgetown” is intended to present ideas for curricular reform and stimulate dialogue on academic life. Authored by the provost’s ad hoc working group, a group comprised of 13 faculty and administrators in addition to three students, lays out steps for the university and its faculty to take to bolster the curriculum and expand research opportunities at Georgetown.

The curriculum report lists six issues that should be addressed over the next three years. The proposed initiatives include reducing an introduction-heavy curriculum, creating a more flexible curriculum, increasing research opportunities, fostering a creative environment for self-directed learning, integrating knowledge and learning with experience and addressing the nature of “formation” for undergraduates.

The report also proposes expanding seminar courses, reformulating criteria of general-education requirements, strengthening the advising process, facilitating the use of new media across campus and complementing coursework with community projects.

The report follows the 2007 Intellectual Life Report, a study published every 10 years that reviews the academic standards, grading and life at Georgetown.

“The Intellectual Life Report looks at a wide landscape of what things are at Georgetown,” O’Donnell said. “[The curriculum report] is a response to [the Intellectual Life Report]. [The curriculum report] was meant to be a fresh and thoughtful look at it. [The report is] supposed to show what faculty think about how to make things better.”

Associate Professor and Assistant Provost Randall Bass, a member of the working group, said that most of the Intellectual Life Report’s recommendations did not specifically handle the curricula.

“[The recommendations of the Intellectual Life Report] had more to do with general intellectual climate or specific practices – such as grading,” Bass said. “This report clearly builds on it, and reinforces many recommendations, but with much more focus on the curriculum. The other key difference with this report is that it also lays out a process for next steps and a process for change.”

“This document is meant to develop conversation so we understand what the opportunities are [for students and faculty],” O’Donnell said.

During the 2008-2009 academic year, the report suggests that the university form a “process to launch a number of working groups,” which will begin working in fall 2009 to look at opportunities for expanding current curricular practices. University officials also plan to hold a campus-wide conversation on general education classes and goals in fall 2009. The report aims for all departments to have outlined public statements of their changes and goals by the end of the 2009-2010 academic year. Finally, by fall 2010, “we should be in a position to convene a third phase of curriculum renewal where we consider campus-wide changes to general education and other dimensions of the curriculum that transcend individual schools,” according to the report.

O’Donnell said that the working made a conscious choice not simply to implement changes without discussion.

“It was a distinct choice not to write a report that says `this is our new curriculum, do you like it?’ Then [the community] tends to say `no,’ [at which point] it gets into a long plan on how to change [the curriculum],” he said. “We wanted to spark discussion. We are just a small group of people. We don’t have the right or the authority to tell everyone what they should be doing.”

Bass agreed that this report is a good way to spark future debate and alterations.

“This report is a good next step from the restless high expectations of the Intellectual Life Report to a path for innovation and improvement that identifies and hopes to build on the strong foundations and promising directions of what already exists,” Bass said.

Associate Professor Fr. Christopher Steck, S.J., another member of the working group, said that the report fosters Georgetown’s Jesuit ideals.

“What I value most in the report is that it reflects a broad and . Jesuit understanding of education. That is, education as an intellectual cultivation sensitive to deeply human concerns – like health and personal growth, the ethical and the spiritual, civic leadership and justice,” he said.

O’Donnell said that Georgetown already fosters a lot of enthusiasm, and that this report tries to use this to create even better changes in the future.

“The most important part is that it connects to good work that is already going on in different schools,” he said. “[We want to] build up the energy and enthusiasm to take the smaller changes and make larger implementations.”

See the 2007 Intellectual Life Report for more on this story.

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