By Madeleine Thompson
Provost Nayef Samhat and the Center for Innovative Pedagogy will hold a faculty retreat in August thanks to a $750,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation. The retreat will focus on centering Kenyons curriculum on six essential skills: writing, oral expression, language and culture, scientific and quantitative reasoning, visual literacy and new media, and geography and spatial phenomena.
Attendees at the last faculty retreat in the summer of 2010 chose these areas of concentration, but they may expand in the coming months.
One of the things we thought about was, How can we connect these skills across different disciplines? … And how can we do so in a way thats explicit and intentional? Samhat said. Its not that were not teaching writing we know were teaching writing but can we be more explicit about the connection that goes on with writing between, say, English and biology?
President S. Georgia Nugent said that the connections between these six skill sets will be integrated throughout a students four years at Kenyon. The notion is to think of these things not as sort of first-year general education requirements but as things that as you go into more and more advanced and sophisticated courses, these skills should also be infused into them, she said. Thinking about it vertically through the Kenyon career and also horizontally, we immediately think, well, quantitative skills belong in math and economics, but where does that show up in art or sociology or literature?
A committee of faculty members wrote a proposal for the upcoming retreat and sent it to the Mellon Foundation, which supported the plan.
This creates an opportunity for us to foster really deep and enduring conversation about our teaching and the delivery of essential skills to our students through our teaching, Samhat said. What really is transformative in the experience of students is not so much a curriculum as it is the pedagogy, the teaching going on inside the classroom.
Associate Professor of Physics Timothy Sullivan, one of 60 faculty members currently planning to attend the retreat, is particularly interested in the language and culture component. The two issues that Im most interested in are global engagement, which should be an important part of a liberal arts education and [quantitative reasoning], Sullivan said.
As a physics professor, however, incorporating cultural aspects in his curriculum is a challenge. Unfortunately, there arent that many programs that combine sciences with study abroad, he said. On the other hand, its perfectly reasonable for a science major to spend a semester not studying science at all. Its a general goal for our majors to be more aware of whats going on in the world.
Associate Professor of Mathematics Bob Milnikel, who also plans to attend the retreat, has volunteered to join the team that addresses quantitative reasoning skills. Theres no student on this campus who doesnt have some interest, academic or otherwise, that doesnt require some level of quantitative skill, Milnikel said. Right now our quantitative requirement is very broadly written, and I think thats fine but we might also consider some sort of placement exam.
For the most part, Milnikel believes Kenyon students graduate with a well-rounded education, and any changes to the curriculum will be fairly small-scale.
The beauty of these areas is that theyre universal, Samhat said. … A Kenyon student should be able to recognize [any issue that arises] as an opportunity and have the ability to engage it. Then you can be a productive member of society.