By Leigh Perkins Brown
“My first Rollins Plan course has been both engaging and challenging, and the approach very refreshing,” said first-year student Jaz Zepatos, who is enrolled in Revolution: Violent and Non-Violent. The course is team taught by Professor of Philosophy Thomas Cook and Assistant Professor of Philosophy Eric Smaw. “The professors are great—they know just what to do to inspire heated debates,” Zepatos said. “It’s nice to be in a class where everyone is passionate about the topic at hand. For our community-engagement project, we interviewed members of our own families who have been personally affected by revolutions. The course has made history more personal to me, and matter more to me, than any previous classroom experiences.”
Unlike current general educational requirements, The Rollins Plan is based on a developmental model, linking what students learn in their first year through their fourth year. It does away with seniors taking sophomore-level courses just to fulfill their general education requirements. “So by their senior year, students will be looking at issues with a lot more information and have the tools to apply their knowledge in a more focused way,” O’Sullivan said. “Over four years, they gain the ability to do more integrative thinking, better analysis, both on a practical and a theoretical basis. The material and their abilities increase in complexity each year.”
The Rollins Plan offers students greater flexibility to explore ideas through their majors, electives, and developmental general education courses. “The goal of The Rollins Plan is to encourage students to think about general education curriculum as an integrated whole rather than a collection of unrelated courses,” said Donald Davison, associate dean of the faculty and professor of political science. Students are encouraged to participate in study-abroad, internship, and community-engagement experiences, as well as co-curricular programs, resulting in a seamless learning experience.
“The Rollins faculty is committed to teaching, to learning, and to students,” said Dean of the Faculty Laurie Joyner. “As we entered into the 21st century, we asked ourselves if we were doing all we could to prepare our students to change the world. The time was right to extend our historic commitment to curricular innovation to more directly address the needs of students and the world today.”
On the heels of the 2007 Rollins Colloquy on Liberal Education and Social Responsibility in a Global Community, the sentiment for curricular review gained momentum. Faculty members brainstormed ideas and decided to use research by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) as their guide. “We met for over a year, almost on a weekly basis, to create The Rollins Plan, trying to foresee a thousand details,” Joyner said. “This is where the rubber meets the road, though, as we implement the program. We’re working hard to learn all we can from this experiment as we work through all of the challenges of a new general education curriculum.”
Assessing the plan’s success is one of the challenges. It will come before a faculty vote in two years before it can be adopted campus wide. Surveys, questionnaires, and committees will provide ongoing feedback and suggested modifications until the vote. And Rollins Plan students will be evaluated in a different way than in the past—not just with exams, but also with online portfolios of their work, documenting the progression of their understanding of their particular “big idea.”
Ramirez is excited to be part of this exciting pilot, even as the kinks get worked out. “I think it’s fun to be the guinea pigs,” she said. “But I’m an open-minded person and that’s probably what I like about a liberal arts education anyway—all of the possibilities.”
Although The Rollins Plan was 30 years coming, innovation is nothing new to Rollins. Within a year of accepting the presidency of the College in 1925, Hamilton Holt instituted an experimental new curriculum he called “The Conference Plan.” It did away with lecterns in favor of conference tables. It valued discussion and teacher/student relationships over memorization. It was so successful that many aspects of the approach continue to be in use at Rollins today, even in the new Rollins Plan.
In his retirement speech, Holt exhorted faculty to think beyond the old-fangled way of teaching, setting the stage for the kind of innovation embodied in The Rollins Plan. “Minimize marks, grades, recitations, lectures, examinations, certificates, diplomas, and degrees,” Holt said. “Maximize personal contacts within and without the classroom. Imitate Socrates. You may get a Plato.”
The Four Principles of The Rollins Plan
The Association of American Colleges and Universities’ research led to the innovative approach of The Rollins Plan. Dean of the Faculty Laurie Joyner explained its four primary findings about the most important components of a college education today:
• Knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world
• Intellectual and practical skills, including critical thinking and communication skills
• Personal and social responsibility, both local and global
• Integrative learning, linking what is learned in one class to the next, one year to the next, inside and outside the classroom
These are not ivory tower concepts. According to a January 2010 study by the AAC&U, more than 90 percent of employers are asking employees to use a broader set of skills and have higher levels of learning than in the past. A full 75 percent of employers believe colleges and universities are not doing a good job of preparing graduates for the demands of the global economy.
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