“The natural sciences, and the technologies that they enable, are woven deeply into the fabric of our lives and are central to many of the important political and social challenges that we face. They are also among the pinnacles of intellectual accomplishment in humanity’s ancient and ongoing quest to understand the world in which we live. Thus, we believe that to function as liberally educated, ethically responsible citizens, stewards of the planet, and as effective leaders, all Georgetown students should understand scientific modes of thought and concepts, both in the abstract and as they are exemplified in at least one major area of scientific inquiry.”
This is the prefatory statement of report from the core curriculum committee that has recently been accepted by the main campus faculty. The report proposes a uniform application of base science course requirement for undergraduates, regardless of the school of enrollment.
It recognizes that the world has changed over the years, with a more central role being played by technology and scientific knowledge in the day-to-day lives of all. It recognizes the importance of the scientific method, with observation, hypothesis formulation, data collection, analysis and conclusion, in an ever-continuous cycle of learning. It recognizes that many of the unsolved world problems either arise from unequal access to technology or may find their solutions in new uses of technology.
I am proud that faculty governance bodies have supported this innovation in the curriculum, even though not all departments will benefit from larger enrollments. I am pleased that our natural science colleagues have committed to their contributions to the common good of our undergraduates, even when many will not be science majors.
A new requirement such as this also brings with it the chance of pedagogical innovation. In addition to traditional single instructor courses, the proposal encourages team teaching. Team teaching gives students a change to compare perspectives of multiple faculty members on the same material. It’s clear that, when two or more faculty members are willing to engage in dialogue on a topic in front of students, the level of student engagement jumps. It’s clear when the faculty illustrate real debates for the students, the retention of the knowledge is greater than merely reading about such debates.
In addition to team teaching, the requirement is perfectly suited to a new “core pathways” treatment. In this format, 7-week, 1.5 credit class modules can be assembled into 3 and 6 credit aggregates in a coordinated manner. One example of such a structure was this year’s “Climate Change” theme. In that framework, each module is 1.5 credits. Students can take up to four distinct 7-week modules in a single year. In order to ensure exposure to multiple disciplines’ approaches, students will take modules from different fields in the same semester. By taking two 1.5 credit modules in the same discipline, students will satisfy core requirements. Students may also combine two 1.5 credit modules from different disciplines as a 3-credit interdisciplinary elective and full-course equivalent. Faculty from different disciplines teach the modules, which themselves are coordinated to assure complete coverage and lack of redundancy.
Undergraduate requirements fill our desire to expose baccalaureate students to the major bodies of human knowledge. They attempt to teach students how different fields vary in their methods of achieving and evaluating advances in knowledge. They provide the basic concepts and theoretical frameworks for students to follow future developments in a field. They do not magically build advanced expertise in a field. Instead, their goal is to help students become literate with the key concepts and theories in a field.
We should be proud that we are extending these benefits to more scientific fields with this change in requirements.