I have been engaged in work on curriculum development in several ways: (1) helping to draft program outcomes for the Philosophy B.A. and for the Arts One program, (2) helping with the renewal of the undergraduate curriculum in Philosophy, (3) engaging in curriculum renewal on an individual course level.
In the Faculty of Arts, each department and program has been asked to draft a set of learning outcomes for their undergraduate students completing the programs. I have been part of such efforts in both the department of Philosophy and the Arts One program.
Since 2013 I have been a member of a committee in Philosophy that is working on drafting program outcomes for the B.A. degree in Philosophy. We studied program outcomes for other Philosophy departments in North America, studied our current curriculum, and discussed amongst ourselves what we expected students to be able to do when they earn a B.A. in Philosophy. We the drafted a set of learning outcomes that we discussed with our colleagues in the department, and revised them based on these comments. Because we are currently in the process of renewing the undergraduate curriculum, these outcomes are still in draft form, likely to change soon, and we have not yet made them public.
Since 2014 I have also been involved in an initiative to develop program outcomes for Arts One. We held a meeting of all faculty to begin this process, and we have a first draft of our outcomes. To help refine these further, we have a survey ready to send out to all faculty who have taught in the program in the last 5-10 years. We also plan to canvas student views to help with drafting our program outcomes, either through a survey or through focus groups. We will continue this work in 2015 and plan to have a new draft of our program outcomes by Summer 2016.
Faculty of Arts first-year programs
In the Faculty of Arts at UBC, first-year students have to take one of three options in their first year:
- Arts One, which is the program I teach in, and which is described on the courses taught page; this course counts for 18 credits for students, or six one-term courses.
- The Coordinated Arts Program, which is another cohort program that counts for 18 credits for students, structured differently from Arts One.
- Choose your own timetable, where students can choose their courses; but they must take one term of WRDS 150, a course on writing in various disciplines in the social sciences and humanities, run by the Arts Studies in Research and Writing program.
The Chairs of Arts One, CAP and ASRW, along with the Chair of First Year Programs in Arts, meet monthly to discuss issues of common concern. We are also working together to draft common outcomes for first year students in the Faculty of Arts. Students must take one of our three courses, and we have started to draft outcomes for what we think they should be able to do after completing any one of them. In this process we have discovered numerous areas of commonality that we didn’t realize we had, as well as our differences.
In Arts One will use these Faculty of Arts first-year outcomes to help us refine our program outcomes for Arts One in the coming year or two.
Since 2013 I have been on a committee that in working on renewal of the undergraduate curriculum in the department of Philosophy. We have met with individual faculty members on a one-on-one basis as well as held meetings with groups of faculty who teach specific courses. In May 2015 we held a two-hour “curriculum summit” to brainstorm changes to the curriculum we would like to see. From that we developed priorities to work on during Summer 2015, and in Fall 2015 the committee will bring a set of proposals to the department to vote on and begin to implement. Among other things, we are considering a few new topical, elective courses at the first-year or second-year level to attract students, such as a course on the philosophy of love or the philosophy of life and death. We are also thinking about reworking the sequence for our formal reasoning courses. But we are still in the early days of determining what we are going to do, so all of this may change in the coming year.
Curriculum changes at the course level
I have worked for several years on revising the curriculum for a course I teach quite often, PHIL 102, Introduction to Philosophy (focused on value theory). There is no set curriculum for this course as it is not required for our majors, and instructors are free to teach it as they wish. I have struggled with how to design the course to fulfill the function I understand it to have, namely to give students a general overview of what philosophy is and to draw in students who might then want to take more philosophy courses later.
- When I first started teaching it I designed it in a way that ended up repeating much of the material that was taught in a second-year course in Philosophy. I changed it for a couple of years to focus on the philosophy of happiness, on what philosophers have said about how to live a happy life, or the role of happiness in ethical theory.
- You can see an example of a syllabus on this topic on the course materials page: PHIL 102, Spring 2010.
- I wasn’t entirely happy with that focus, and in Fall 2013 I changed it, this time to talk about what philosophers themselves have said philosophy is and why it’s useful to human life. I hoped that that way students would leave the course with a recognition of why philosophy is valuable and how they themselves engage in it in their everyday lives. That is one of my learning goals for this course.
- The syllabi for PHIL 102, Fall 2013 and Summer 2015 on the course materials page are examples of this theme for the course.
- I am still in the process of deciding whether this is the best focus for the course, and may change it again for the Fall of 2015.
In Arts One, we engage in curriculum renewal on a biannual basis, as the course content changes with a new theme, new reading list, and new team of instructors every two years. I have been involved in creating new themes and reading lists as part of such teams since I started teaching in Arts One in 2005. The overall structure of the course has not changed, but the theme and reading list changes biannually.
However, the teaching team I am not a part of (there are two teaching teams in Arts One) tried something new last year: they asked students to do outside research for one of their essays, which we don’t normally do in Arts One (it is quite a lot for them to read an entire book and write an essay just on that in one week). I did not know they were doing this until after the fact, or I would have suggested we do the same in our team. I am going to suggest it for our team for 2015-2016.
Since I am Chair of Arts One from 2015-2017, I will also be holding meetings of the teaching faculty to discuss whether we think any other changes to the Arts One curriculum and structure are warranted, based on in part on surveys of students we have done in the past and a survey of first-year students in the Faculty of Arts that is currently being planned. If any important patterns come up in suggestions by students in the surveys, we will certainly consider them.