Saturday, July 24, 2004

Why do we need a new curriculum?

In my last post on the subject of science/engineering undergraduate curricula, I described some possible goals of any curriculum and a few thoughts that I had. The comments I received were interesting; I'll summarise some of them and explain the rationale behind my ideas today before posting the proposed curriculum tomorrow.

Ranjith said the the chief problem was not with the curriculum followed or even the quality of professors, but rather with the attitude of students. They should break away from a mark-centered school system and learn to explore subjects independently, but often don't realise this. Dileepan agrees that students are marks-oriented and proposes the solution of evaluating performance based on labs, case-studies or assignments instead of emphasising tests that encourage rote learning.

Rahul concurs with Ranji and Dileepan, but feels that there is a problem other than attitude. Students think that they need knowledge in their own areas of specialisation and believe that this is affected negatively by learning things that they don't need. They would love to know how the whole world works but don't want their core compromised. Though BITS permits you to do electives from any area, students choose them from subjects that they think they need (either to increase their specialised knowledge or programming courses to help them get software jobs). While doing a three-and-a-half year course, they give their discipline their first priority and compromise on stuff they would otherwise like to do.

While trying to design a new curriculum, I began from premises similar to Rahul's. I hoped that I could simultaneously increase the number of requisite discipline-specific courses so that people could choose electives as electives instead of using them to address a lack of knowledge that should have been covered and to increase the number of elective slots available to an average student. An ambitious goal, but I think I succeeded partially.

To respond to Ranji and Dileepan, if students were required to choose - early in their college lives - a few electives that were specially designed to explore new areas, with an emphasis on individual thought and few (if any) written tests and exams, would it help change their attitudes? The first-year courses at Timothy Burke's 21st Century College would seem perfect for this purpose.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow's post, where I have to actually describe a curriculum that achieves all the targets I've set for it. A pretty tall order, and one I don't know if I can fill; most of my previous attempts at curriculum design fall short in one way or another. An interesting challenge!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is this a curriculum approved by the senate or is it the rough sketch?I look forward to see your ideas in form.