Beginning in 2007, the faculty began a comprehensive review of the general education curriculum. Five faculty work groups researched and authored white papers examining critical areas of liberal arts curriculums and recommended reforms. In addition, a faculty survey revealed dissatisfaction with the existing general education program as well as a belief that a considerable gap exists between the educational goals of the current curriculum and how well it was being delivered to our students.
Based upon their research, the faculty identified several goals for any new general education curriculum. First, the curriculum should be developmental. First-year students are at a different intellectual and social developmental stage compared to students completing their fourth year of college. Hence, a curriculum should distinguish between introductory or 100-level courses and 400-level courses. Students should move through their general educational experience [i.e., courses] sequentially to match their intellectual growth. Second, a new curriculum should encourage students to integrate knowledge across multiple disciplines. The new curriculum should be inherently interdisciplinary and require students to connect knowledge from different fields to prepare them for real-world problem solving after graduation.
These principles guided the development of the Rollins Plan pilot curriculum. Now in its third semester, the Rollins Plan requires students to complete seven courses carefully sequenced over their four-year career. The courses are organized around a substantive theme—Revolution or Global Challenges: Florida and Beyond— each beginning with an introductory course and ending with a senior-year capstone. Further, students must complete at least one course in each division (Social Sciences, Expressive Arts, Humanities, and the Natural and Mathematical Sciences). Each of the 15 LEAP learning outcomes from AAC&U are introduced and reinforced in each thematic plan. In addition to completing a seven-course plan students must also satisfy basic competencies in mathematics, foreign language, and writing which generally parallel our current Q, F, and W requirements.
On March 24 the Rollins Plan Faculty Steering Committee shared in an open forum the progress of the pilot and possible changes for a new general education curriculum for the College. The pilot began with 89 students in January, 2010. Currently, there are about 40 students remaining in the pilot. The most frequently stated reason given by students who left the pilot was its lack of flexibility. Many students’ frustrations related to the nature of participating in a pilot. Course options were limited each semester to only two or three classes per plan.
The courses must be taken in a carefully calibrated sequence thereby complicating their schedules. Thus, students who wish to study abroad, pursue a double-major, graduate early, or take introductory required courses in their major often experienced scheduling conflicts because there were too few courses in the pilot. Further, students disliked the lack of choice among their Rollins Plan classes. Finally, some students believed the better organization was needed in a few of their Rollins Plan classes. At the same time, many students expressed satisfaction with the content and learning goals in their Rollins Plan classes. They believed they were learning a great deal, being forced to integrate information from both their other Rollins Plan courses as well as courses outside the pilot, and often expressed the belief their Rollins Plan courses were more valuable compared to the regular general education courses of their peers.
In response to this feedback the faculty steering committee proposed several changes to the Rollins Plan. The modified model continues to be developmental, interdisciplinary, and integrates knowledge. The changes create an undergraduate liberal arts experience that is divided into two complementary tiers of learning for our students: Core Competencies and Intellectual Development. The Core Competencies includes Math (or quantitative skill), Foreign Language, and Writing. The Intellectual Development tier includes 6 (instead of 15) learning outcomes: Critical and Creative Thinking, Intercultural Knowledge, Ethical Reasoning, Civic Engagement, Inquiry and Analysis, and Integrative Learning. Students will be able to select from among three Rollins Plans and each plan includes six courses beginning with an introductory course and ending with a capstone experience. Instead of courses being precisely sequences they are divided into lower-level and upper-level courses; students must complete the lower-level Rollins Plan courses before moving into the upper-level classes. However, there is no sequence from course-to-course. Limiting the curriculum to three thematic plans requires that each plan consist of minimally 90 courses offered each year thus increasing course choices and flexibility for students while simultaneously reducing the potential for scheduling conflicts. Finally, students may explore the different Rollins Plans their first year by enrolling in the introductory courses. Students are expected to declare their plan by the end of their first year in order to make an informed choice.
The faculty steering committee continues to evaluate the Rollins Plan and consider possible improvements. For instance, the committee is consider how to incorporate Information Literacy into the new curricular model. What is the relationship between the Rollins Plan and majors as well as the RCC program? These and other questions will guide the work of the faculty as it develops a final model to be considered by the Academic Affairs Committee and the faculty this fall. Please contact members of the Faculty Steering Committee (Thom Moore, Judy Schmalstig, Bruce Stephenson, Debra Wellman, Mark Anderson, and Don Davison) with your comments and insights on this important curricular initiative.