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Three words sum up the Stanford journey: Integrate, innovate and inspire, Elam tells Faculty Senate

At the third meeting of fall quarter, the senate heard an update on the redesign of undergraduate education that the faculty approved last spring.

L.A. Cicero Harry Elam addressing the Faculty Senate

Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Harry Elam addressing the Faculty Senate on Thursday.

Six months after the Faculty Senate approved sweeping changes in breadth requirements for undergraduates, Harry J. Elam Jr., vice provost for undergraduate education, presented a progress report on plans to implement the new Ways of Thinking/Ways of Doing program in the fall of 2013.

Speaking at Thursday's senate meeting, Elam said the opportunity to implement the new breadth requirements was an "exciting moment" for the university.

"We'll be reaching out in so many different ways to you, to other constituencies and to students to find ways to make Ways of Thinking work, to evaluate it and to keep Stanford at the vanguard of undergraduate education," he said.

The senate approved the new breadth requirements last May after extensive discussions and debate. The new requirements were one of many recommendations in the 2012 Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford (SUES).

At the start of his presentation, Elam said he could summarize the recommendations of the SUES report in three words: integrate, innovate and inspire.

The Ways of Thinking/Ways of Doing categories are aesthetic and interpretive inquiry; social inquiry; scientific method and analysis; formal reasoning; applied quantitative reasoning; engaging diversity; ethical reasoning; and creative expression. Starting with the class entering in fall 2013, students will be required to take 11 courses in the eight categories.

Elam said the new Breadth Governance Board, under the direction of Chris Edwards, a professor of mechanical engineering, has already done a lot of work on Ways of Thinking/Ways of Doing.

"They needed by Oct. 15 to come up with a rationale for each of the eight ways, as well as learning outcomes, and to put them into something that was coherent, succinct and available for chairs to look at," Elam said.

The board created an 11-page report, Ways of Thinking/Ways of Doing: A capacity-based approach to fostering breadth in General Education Electives.

The board also has established a process by which faculty and departments may certify their courses to fulfill the new general education electives.  

Elam said there have been a series of Ways meetings, including one Thursday on creative expression. Two more meetings are scheduled: moral and ethical reasoning on Nov. 27, and scientific method and analysis on Nov. 29.

"It's a chance to sit down with others and talk about what would go into that particular Way, why, how your course might fit, ideas that you're thinking about in relation to that course, what it may mean to your department," Elam said.

He said the deadline for submitting courses, Dec. 14, is there as a way of saying to departments, "please help us with this process."

"Put in those courses that you think fit into a certain area," Elam said. "That way, we get a listing of courses, we get a sense of where there are missing areas and where there needs to be more courses. Quite frankly, in terms of needs, three areas come to mind: engaging diversity, creative expression and ethical reasoning."

He said the university will hold summer workshops to fund curriculum development for individual faculty who have the goal of creating new courses in these categories.

"But, if a faculty member wants to work with another faculty member, or another faculty member within a group, then we add additional funding for lunch and additional funding for bringing in someone to speak with them," Elam said, adding that one of his goals is to form "learning communities among faculty."

New freshman curriculum

Elam also discussed the new Thinking Matters program, which the senate approved last March. Stanford launched the program this quarter for incoming freshmen.

The courses – all students are required to take at least one Thinking Matters course – are designed to welcome freshmen into intellectual life at Stanford and to teach them the critical and analytical skills required for rigorous university-level work.  

Citing data from the initial forms returned by students last June, Elam said 88 percent of incoming freshmen got their first choice among the available Thinking Matters courses and 96 percent got their first or second choice.

He said more than half the incoming students said they planned to take at least one Thinking Matters course as an elective in addition to the required course.

Among the courses that earned more than 200 first-choice requests were The Science of MythBusters (fall), How Does Your Brain Work? (winter) and Networks: Ecological, Revolutionary, Digital (spring).

Elam also shared some statistics on Stanford Introductory Seminars, which the senate last March voted to "strongly" encourage first-year students to take. The seminars are small group courses for freshmen and sophomores taught by esteemed faculty.

Currently, 38 percent of freshmen are enrolled in Introductory Seminars, up from 33 percent during fall quarter of last year, Elam said.

He said 39 percent of fall quarter introductory seminars in the humanities are full, compared with 24 percent last year, which he called "incredible growth."

Elam said the online Cardinal Compass, which helps freshmen navigate their first year at Stanford, has received nearly 18,000 page views since it was launched in August.

In the Q&A that followed Elam's presentation, faculty members asked questions on a variety of topics including how to make Introductory Seminars available to student athletes, whose schedules can make it hard for them to attend; the value of capstone projects; team teaching of Ways of Thinking/Ways of Doing courses; and evaluating the long-term impact of the new breadth requirements.

The full minutes of the meeting, including the presentation and the question-and-answer session that followed, will be available next week on the senate's website.

The next senate meeting will be held Dec. 6.