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Colleges plan for changes

Profile image for By Jenna Duncan / Staff Writer
By Jenna Duncan / Staff Writer

Teachers, administrators prepare for mandated new core curriculum

Local college professors and administrators are already planning for the fall 2014 semester, when all public institutions must implement new core curriculum, the required classes undergraduate students must take.

By November, all schools must submit plans to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board detailing the course-selection process, proposed courses and how the school will assess whether the new core objectives are met by students. The board will review and send back revisions to the schools by February 2014, and the new curriculum will be implemented that fall with the incoming freshmen class.

This is the first revision of the standards since core curriculum for higher education was implemented in 1998.

“I think it’s useful to examine the core curriculum at times, and we can then explain it to students in a way that makes sense instead of just a bunch of individual classes that they have to take,” said Julia Glass, associate dean of undergraduate studies at the University of North Texas.

The new core has been simplified to outline 42 credit hours, covering nine component areas and how many hours are required in each, and then six core objectives, according to Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board reports. Each class in the new core curriculum can only cover one component area and must meet three to four of the core objectives. Component areas include topics such as communication and mathematics, and the core objectives include critical thinking, communication skills and teamwork.

While the component areas are nearly identical to the current requirements, the objectives are all new. Before, the course had to have several elements of exemplary educational outcomes, basic intellectual competencies and perspectives. The new system has “greatly simplified” the requirements, but taken away some flexibility, said Don Edwards, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a member of the core curriculum planning council at Texas Woman’s University.

“The definition from the coordinating board is that it will reflect current and future demands on needed skills; it’s a little different look at the way we define elements of the core,” Edwards said. “Before there were a number of things we had to look at for each of our core courses and we simplified that to some extent.”

However, some higher education professionals expressed concern with some of the core objectives and how they will be able to measure them within an academic course, most notably social responsibility and personal responsibility.

“Some [core objectives] are basic, but they are also asking us to teach and assess personal responsibility, so that’s been a big question mark and a big source of anxiety at a lot of colleges,” said Kevin Eubanks, an instructor at North Central Texas College and the chairman of the core curriculum committee. “That we somehow have to teach students how to be personally responsible, then figure out how to test them on their responsibility.”

Other issues with the core include adapting some current courses, such as physical education, to make them fit into the new core, and the potential for professors to feel like they don’t have total control of their classrooms, Eubanks said. Also, under the original system, a class could count for credit of multiple component areas, but this is no longer the case, Edwards said.

But by rethinking how classes are taught and the goals of each course, Eubanks said he thinks it will be a positive change and make instructors be more intentional with their teaching. And since the objectives are more straightforward, Glass said she thinks this helps provide some unity between the required coursework.

Currently, these schools are trying to complete the mandate and working with professors, departments and committees to address the changes. NCTC, UNT and TWU all have committees overseeing the process. At each of the schools, proposed courses are submitted to the committees for review to make sure the course meets the state requirements and local standards.

Through this process, the schools have worked together and with other colleges and universities in the state to discuss new curriculum. One of the aims of the program is to make the core curriculum more uniform so it is easier for students to transfer between institutions in the state, which will have a large benefit for NCTC.

“It’s definitely a good thing for us because so many are academic transfer students who will be gong to other universities,” Eubanks said. “It would be reassuring for us to know if they take the core curriculum at NCTC, they will have the same knowledge and skills, for example, if they took the classes at UNT.”

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.