New curriculum decreases courses, increases rigor

Since USF implemented a new undergraduate curriculum this semester, the University wants to keep the number of additional courses at a minimum.

Under the new Foundations of Knowledge and Learning Core Curriculum (FKL), the University decreased the number of general education courses it offers and changed the criteria all courses are required to meet.

So far this academic year, the USF Faculty Senate General Education Council has approved only eight new courses – a large decrease from last year – said Dean of Undergraduate Studies Robert Sullins.

Four new courses were proposed at last week’s Faculty Senate Undergraduate Council Meeting, but Sullins said the University does not plan to add many more.

“The new FKL curriculum is designed to meet a number of objectives,” Sullins said. “Perhaps the primary one being to provide undergraduate students with academic experiences that might result from having enrolled at a major research university.”

The goal of FKL was to develop strong courses that meet the new requirements and offer more sections of that class, Sullins said.

USF may use a “trade” system to keep the number of courses at bay, said Associate Dean for the College of Arts and Sciences Robert Potter.

“If one is no longer needed, they may swap it for a new course which has been proposed,” Potter said.

The previous curriculum contained more than 300 courses. Now, there are less than 200, Sullins said.

Previously, some courses weren’t offered each semester, which made it difficult to manage the large number of courses and evaluate student outcome, he said.

“The goal was to develop really strong courses that satisfy the new requirements and offer more sections of each of them,” Sullins said.

There also was never a re-evaluation process for course curriculum, Potter said.

“So what you often had was some level of drift,” Potter said. “The original proposer may not be teaching the course, and the new instructor may have re-envisioned the course with their own ideas that may or may not have met the original approval criteria.”

Under the FKL curriculum, a course is certified for five years after it is approved, said Gladis Kersaint, chair of the USF Faculty Senate General Education Council.

“After five years, the course must be resubmitted to determine whether or not it should remain in the curriculum,” Kersaint said.

Potter said the courses under the new curriculum have a reciprocal relationship.

“While the number of courses has gone down, quality is going up,” Potter said. “That said, the courses have been increased in the level of rigor, so the expectations have gone up. It’s a lot like you get what you pay for.”

Faculty can propose new courses, which must be approved by that department’s undergraduate councils and signed by the department chair, Potter said.

Courses can be submitted online through a multi-step form provided on the Undergraduate Studies Web site.

As part of a proposal, faculty members must provide topics, objectives and outcomes, a detailed syllabus and a selection of at least four out of 14 “dimensions” the course will incorporate, according to the Undergraduate Studies Web site.

Dimensions are either intellectual strategies, approaches to knowledge, perspectives or competencies that a course will include, according to the Web site.

Two criteria that new courses must emphasize are inquiry-based instruction and critical thinking, Sullins said.

“Inquiry-based instruction provides a focus on introducing students to the way the various disciplines work, how we learn what we learn and know what we know in respective disciplines,” he said. “The intent of that focus is to cause undergraduate students to acquire an interest in exploring research opportunities as undergraduate students.”

A course must meet at least two other dimensions to meet the criteria for the FKL curriculum.

“Critical thinking and inquiry skills are going to be useful for students over time,” Potter said. “They can use those skills in a number of classes and in their career activities.”

Once submitted, a course proposal is given to three members of the Faculty Senate Undergraduate Council for review, Potter said. The council can then request more information before approving the proposal.

“Often times these things go back and forth several times before faculty has enough appropriate information that meets the criteria,” Potter said.

Once the course is approved, it goes to the entire Undergraduate Council for a vote.

In the 2008-09 academic year, the Faculty Senate General Education Council reviewed and approved 59 new courses, Sullins said.

Though the University doesn’t plan to approve many new courses this year, Potter said students are getting more out of the new curriculum.

“The quality of the instruction has improved, and what the students are going to get out of those courses has improved,” he said.