As UTSA pushes toward Tier One status, the university has been re-evaluating and reshaping its core curriculum in an effort to make courses more efficient and more relevant to all new students.
The Freshman Experience Task Force, which consists of professors and administrators from around the campus, has reviewed the core curriculum and recommendations for new core courses have been considered. Pending the approval of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, UTSA has determined which changes it will make to its core curriculum in fall of 2014.
“All public institutions are in the process of revising their core curriculum. It will be implemented statewide in 2014,” said UTSA Assistant Vice Provost Nancy Martin.
The Freshman Experience Task Force was charged with the task of determining which classes are absolutely fundamental to student success in college, regardless of their major. The main courses the task force identified included Freshman Composition classes, Math, Academic Inquiry and courses from the new Quantitative Literacy Program (QLP). The number of required hours in the core curriculum will remain at 42, but the core requirements will get a makeover.
“One difference is that, in the current catalog, we have the World Society and Issues component, and that’s gone away,” said Martin. “Right now, everyone is required to take an economics course. Economics would be an option in the core. We will also have a new component called Language, Philosophy, and Culture. We will have, the plan is, a new course called Academic Inquiry and Scholarship.”
According to Martin, the new Academic Inquiry and Scholarship course is designed to introduce students to college and show them how a university is different from high school. Academic Inquiry and Scholarship will go far beyond a simple study-skills course, giving students an understanding of how knowledge is dispersed and created at UTSA and how different disciplines conduct research.
“The Academic Inquiry and Scholarship course is intended to introduce students to how it is that various disciplines conduct research: how do they approach it, how do they think about it?” said Martin.
In order to ease a student’s transition to UTSA, undergraduate student advisors will be assigned to each Academic Inquiry class. These advisors will be sophomores or above and will serve as mentors to incoming freshmen, assisting them with any transitional problems they may encounter at UTSA.
Martin noted that the Quantitative Literacy Program is a separate initiative from the Freshman Experience Task Force. Designed to increase student quantitative skills by reshaping existing courses to incorporate more quantitative research and analysis, “Q” courses will be incorporated into revamped core curriculum.
“All students must meet a ‘Q’ requirement and take a ‘Q’ course in order to graduate,” said Martin. “So we’re trying to grow the number of courses that have that ‘Q’ designation.”
Many of the existing core courses are being redesigned as “Q” courses, so students do not have to take an extra course in order to meet their “Q” requirement.
“Students still have a lot of questions about ‘where do I go to pay my parking ticket?’ and all of the things they need to have tended to,” said Martin. “We care about our freshmen and we need to do something-I think we have an ethical responsibility to do something to help them to fit in and to make this their new home.”
UTSA plans to link the new core courses in blocks, where groups of students are assigned to common courses, much like the learning communities UTSA has now. Rather than registering for courses individually, students would sign up for a certain group of linked courses. This means that students would see the same peers in each of their classes, fostering a community spirit.
“We’re linking students and trying to cohort students a little bit so that they’re more likely to be able to get to know people in their classes, more likely to get to know their professors and develop relationships and friendships with their peers,” said Martin.
Although these changes have been approved at the campus level, the final word goes to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB). Changes may also occur during the implementation process.