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The new IDEAs in Action curriculum is designed to develop students’ overarching capacities to prepare them for citizenship, leadership, lifelong learning and the careers of the future. (photo by Donn Young) (photo of Prof. Geoff Sayre-McCord teaching in a classroom)
The new IDEAs in Action curriculum is designed to develop students’ overarching capacities to prepare them for citizenship, leadership, lifelong learning and the careers of the future. (photo by Donn Young)

The IDEAs in Action curriculum, endorsed by the UNC-Chapel Hill Faculty Council on April 12, emphasizes the first-year experience, key “focus capacities” and experiential learning.

After a three-year process involving hundreds of faculty, students, staff and other key stakeholders, Carolina will have a new General Education curriculum for undergraduates beginning in fall 2021.

All undergraduates entering Carolina spend their first two years in the College of Arts & Sciences as they complete their General Education requirements — the ideas and capacities every student is required to master regardless of major.

The new IDEAs in Action curriculum — IDEA stands for Identify, Discover, Evaluate and Act — was endorsed by the UNC-Chapel Hill Faculty Council on April 12. It will replace the Making Connections curriculum adopted in 2006.

A General Education Coordinating Committee, formed in May 2016 by then-College Dean Kevin M. Guskiewicz and made up of faculty from many departments, led a series of town halls and discussions with faculty, students, alumni, staff and more to gather input and to make revisions based on that feedback.

“We tried to get the broadest engagement from as many people as possible about the new curriculum, and we worked to make sure it aligns with Carolina’s public mission and the needs of all our students,” said Andrew Perrin, a sociology professor who chaired the committee.

Guskiewicz, who is now interim chancellor, asked that the new General Education curriculum be “contemporary, innovative, inclusive and global.”

“I am grateful to all those who worked tirelessly and collaboratively to create a curriculum that hits the mark on each of these goals,” Guskiewicz said.  “Our students will thrive in this new curriculum and excel at understanding and acting on the grand challenges of our time once they graduate.”

The key words in the name of the IDEAs in Action curriculum represent what it is designed to do — to develop students’ overarching capacities to prepare them for citizenship, leadership, lifelong learning and the careers of the future.

That means equipping them “to think critically, define and frame questions, work collaboratively, solve problems, make reasoned judgments based upon facts and evidence, respond creatively to changing and uncertain situations, take risks and be resilient,” according to the curriculum proposal.

The curriculum begins with First Year Foundations, a set of courses and experiences designed to help students navigate their transition to the university environment. The curriculum proceeds through the student’s education with Focus Capacity courses, nine types of courses that convey key capacities for students that bring depth, breadth and broad skills to their general education. It incorporates flexible curricular and extracurricular experiences such as research projects, study abroad, internships and more to build upon these courses to foster Reflection and Integration throughout students’ undergraduate careers.

The curriculum moves away from the traditional approach of filling X number of courses in X number of subjects to one that emphasizes learning key focus capacities. Some examples of focus capacities include Quantitative Reasoning; Global Understanding and Engagement; Power, Difference and Inequality; and Engagement with the Human Past.

“Focus capacities take learning beyond the organization of knowledge by disciplinary subjects; they are disciplinary-agnostic,” Perrin said. “They are flexible, allowing students the opportunity to mold their own educational pathways, while also requiring that they encounter new and challenging ideas.”

A new requirement in the curriculum is that students must take either a First Year Seminar or a First Year Launch course. The launch courses are new —they are small faculty-led sections of a large introductory core subject course like Econ 101, for example.

College Thriving is a new required course that will introduce students to the research, resources and practical skills need to thrive in college and beyond.

Ideas, Information and Inquiry or “Triple I” courses are also required courses that are team-taught by faculty members across three disciplines and address broad themes such as “Health and Happiness” and “Death and Dying.”

First Year Launch, College Thriving and Triple I courses were all piloted in spring 2019.

In feedback about the course, a student said about College Thriving: “This course helped to open my eyes to campus life and give me a kick start into what I need to do to be successful at UNC.”

And a faculty member said about a Triple I course: “It has been inspiring and invigorating to learn from my talented colleagues, not only in terms of our topic but also with regards to teaching techniques and philosophies.”

IDEAs in Action will also emphasize experiential learning and stress high-structure active learning and other practices that have been shown to improve student outcomes.

What happens next in the process?

The goal is to roll out the curriculum for the first-year class entering in fall 2021. An implementation team, led by the Office of Undergraduate Curricula, with representation from faculty and students across campus, has been working on plans to implement the new curriculum. A resolution approved by the Faculty Council on April 12 asked the Office of Faculty Governance to set up a General Education Oversight Committee to oversee assessment, evaluation and implementation of the new curriculum.

For more information, visit the IDEAs in Action website.

By Kim Spurr, College of Arts & Sciences




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