SHSU Core curriculum shrinks with recent revisions

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Students entering college in the fall 2014 will have less choice in what classes they have to take in the core curriculum if current plans are accepted.

The new makeup of Sam Houston State University’s core curriculum – 42 credit hours that must be taken by every student – gives students 82 different options across nine topic areas designated by the state. The curriculum currently in place gives students 105 course options across 10 topic areas.

After a suggestion from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, SHSU’s Core Curriculum Committee completely scrapped the current system and asked departments to resubmit every class they wanted considered.

Dean of Graduate Studies and core committee co-chair Kandi Tayebi said the reason for the smaller core was a result of departments not submitting the number of classes they did before.

“Some people decided that their classes (currently in the core and otherwise) weren’t a good fit, no longer matched (component areas), or couldn’t meet the skill objectives,” Tayebi said.

THECB is now requiring all Texas public universities to assess their students across six skills or concepts each curriculum plan should teach their students: critical thinking, communication, empirical and quantitative, teamwork, social responsibility, and personal responsibility.

In addition, the board broke down the required 42 credit hours into nine component, or topic areas, including communication (six hours); math (three to four hours); life and physical sciences (eight hours); creative arts (three hours); American history (six hours); political science (six hours); social and behavioral sciences (three hours); language, philosophy and cultural studies (three hours); and a university option area (three to four hours).

Each potential class, Tayebi said, needed to show how the department fit the component area, how the class incorporated the skills, and how they could assess if the class actually taught the skills.

Faculty were asked to rank their top three most important component areas in a survey taken of 307 faculty members. The results showed that “three R’s” were especially important for students to learn – reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic.

Specifically, faculty said that students needed to have better abilities to express themselves in writing (communication), have increased math skills, as well as an expanded worldview (language, philosophy and cultural studies) in that order.

Ninety percent of faculty said that SHSU “students need six hours of composition” in the core.

“Our students cannot write (compose) a complete sentence,” one faculty survey commenter said. “They have difficulty getting their points across. I think we need to make sure they can read, write and present by the time they graduate from college.”

No additional courses were added in writing or math courses. However, the committee used three of the university option courses to add what essentially functions as a visual and oral communication component.

The four classes in the component area – two from communication studies, one from mass communication, and a business speech class in the College of Business – are all focused on speech or speaking skills.

In the survey, the results were much closer on if this change was wanted. Fifty-seven percent agreed that a “three-hour speech course is required in the core.” An additional 33 percent disagreed and eight percent didn’t know either way.

In addition, the survey addressed the formerly mandated, one-hour health class. Sixty-five percent of faculty said students do not need additional health hours.

KINE 2115 was required of all students in the old core. In the proposed one, students will also have the option of a digital research or a social economics course. A three-hour health studies class was added into the cultural studies component.

Sixteen classes are new to the core, 34 were not resubmitted from the current curriculum, and six classes were either rejected, voluntarily pulled or are still being considered.

Tayebi said that there was only one class – MCOM 2351 Film History and Criticism – that was outright rejected by the committee. Two classes – PHIL 2352 Introduction to Contemporary Logic and THEA 1364 Beginning Acting – are currently in component area review. The committee asked the departments in the other three classes to revise their submissions, but departments chose not to.

“We gave (departments) a chance to go back and revise their submissions (rather than outright rejecting them),” she said. “They were all new to the system like (the committee) was. So, PACE even came out and worked with some of the programs to rework the courses to incorporate the skill objectives.”

The core curriculum committee – made up of faculty – is building a foundation that the standing university curriculum committee will use when determining future core class submissions.

The approved classes are currently sitting in an assessment committee that is determining how SHSU will assess the skill requirements.

The department chairs, academic deans, the core curriculum committee, and the Academic Affairs Committee have already approved classes in the proposed core.

After the university chooses the methods of assessing the skills in the core, the entire package will be sent to the Texas State University System Board of Regents and the THECB for approval.

“I don’t think we’re going to have problems,” Tayebi said. “They’ve said before to look at something, but we’ve been in constant communication with (the THECB) to make sure that (core classes aren’t rejected).”

Tayebi said she’s not sure when the curriculum would go up for approval but that the deadline for submitting to THECB is in November 2013. The new core would go into effect for incoming freshman in Fall 2014.