Meet the first class to enter Stanford's new Faculty College

Under a new undergraduate education initiative, Stanford will give groups of faculty the space, time and resources to create new team-taught courses, to make a major change in a department's curriculum or to establish new cross-disciplinary teaching endeavors.

The entering class of the 2012 Faculty College is an eclectic bunch that includes a musician, a biologist, electrical engineers, an expert on child health policy and professors of French and Italian, American Art and Culture and Ethics in Society.

All told, six faculty teams are participating in the first "Faculty College" at Stanford. Harry J. Elam Jr., vice provost for undergraduate education (VPUE), unveiled the new program at the Faculty Senate's June 9 meeting.

L.A. Cicero Harry Elam addressing the Faculty Senate

Harry J. Elam Jr., vice provost for undergraduate education, unveiled the program at the Faculty Senate's June 9 meeting.

Stanford will provide the teams with the space, time and resources to create new team-taught courses, to make a major change to a department's curriculum or to establish new cross-disciplinary teaching endeavors.

"The hope is that focused time spent in Faculty College will lead to critical improvements in undergraduate education at Stanford and that Faculty College can be an exciting space that continually helps to rejuvenate and foreground the importance of undergraduate education at Stanford," Elam wrote in a two-page handout distributed at last Thursday's meeting.

Learning about 'design thinking'

During the morning session of Faculty College on June 10, the teams took part in a workshop on how to apply design thinking – a methodology for practical, creative resolution of problems or issues that looks for an improved future result – to the process of creating new courses.

The daylong meeting was held at Stanford's Hasso Plattner Institute of Design.

David Kelley, the Donald W. Whittier Professor in Mechanical Engineering and founder of IDEO, a global design firm based in Palo Alto, presented an overview of design thinking.

Bill Burnett, a consulting assistant professor in mechanical engineering and the executive director of the institute's design program, led the participants in design thinking exercises, including one in which participants paired up for an empathetic listening exercise about each other's gift-giving behaviors.

Drama Professor Janice Ross, director of the department's Dance Division, described the day as "invigorating in the best sense of the word."

"The opening design thinking session launched each of us with a 'serious fun' approach to how we might discard the usual dry approach to course development and put the concerns of our future students first," Ross wrote in an email.

"Framing the knowledge we are shaping in our respective teams as 'gifts' we are giving, we engaged in a lively rehearsal of how to enhance the chances of success in gift-giving, first conceptually, then logistically and finally practically. In our afternoon session the practical part arrived as we tried to harness all that high-spirited energy into a new curriculum. It was a wonderful way to inaugurate and jump start the hard work that lies ahead."

During the coming academic year, the faculty teams will focus on six projects.

  • Ethics of War Project: This team is developing a new interdisciplinary team-taught course, based on the 2010-11 Ethics and War lecture series. The team members are Scott Sagan, political science; Debra Satz, philosophy; Allen Weiner, senior lecturer, law; Paul Wise, professor in child health, medicine; and Joseph Felter, senior research scholar at the Center for International Security and Cooperation.
  • Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages Project: This team is creating a new, three-quarter sequence of core courses, each of which will be team-taught, crossing cultures and languages. The team members are Dominic Brookshaw, comparative literature; Hans Ulrich "Sepp" Gumbrecht, comparative literature and French and Italian; Monika Greenleaf, Slavic languages and literatures; Adrian Daub, German studies; Laura Wittman, French and Italian; and Hector Hoyos, Iberian and Latin American Cultures.
  • Electrical Engineering & Environmental Engineering Track Project: The Department of Electrical Engineering will be developing a new energy and environment track for its undergraduate majors. The team members are: Bert Hesselink, electrical engineering; Joseph Kahn; electrical engineering; John Pauly, electrical engineering; Balaji Prabhakar, electrical engineering and computer science; Howard Zebker, electrical engineering and geophysics; and Olav Solgaard, director of the Ginzton Laboratory.
  • Networks Project: This team is developing a new interdisciplinary team-taught course entitled "Social Animals, Social Revolutions and Social Networks." The team members are: Dan Edelstein, French and Italian; Deborah M. Gordon, biology; and Eric Roberts, computer science.
  • Bioengineering Undergraduate Design Project: The Department of Bioengineering wants to develop an emphasis on design in multiple classes in this new major. The team members are: Christina Smolke, bioengineering; Paul Yock, bioengineering and cardiovascular medicine; Drew Endy, bioengineering; and David Camarillo, bioengineering.
  • Arts Structured Liberal Education Project: This team will explore creating an arts-based program with both residential and curricular components that will fulfill part or all of the freshman year requirements. (It is based on the model of the current Structured Liberal Education residential/curricular program.) The team members are: Jonathan Berger, music; Janice Ross, drama; and Bryan Wolf, art and art history.

Elam said the teams will convene as a whole in October, January and April. In between, the teams are expected to meet at least two to three times per quarter.

"We will provide these groups with resources, such as support from the Center for Teaching and Learning, and graduate assistantship and assistants' funds for books and supplies," he said. "At the April meeting, the groups from Faculty College will report their findings, as well as their plan for implementing their new courses. "

Elam said Faculty College will be able to help implement the recommendations of the Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford (SUES), the task force established in January 2010 to review Stanford's curriculum, reaffirm or revise its goals for undergraduate education and ensure that general education requirements reflect its stated goals. The task force, which recently presented a progress report to the senate, is expected to issue its final report in the fall.

"Whatever SUES decides, this may be a platform where new courses can be developed, where faculty can come together and think about these ideas," Elam said.

21st century learning

Elam said Faculty College was one of several new strategic partnerships VPUE has launched to begin shaping 21st century learning at Stanford. He said the partnerships – with students, faculty and administrators – are aimed at increasing and improving communication and interaction with each of those groups.

"More importantly, our hope is to invigorate participation, to define new synergies, to open new dialogues and to discover collaborative pathways that inform this process of undergraduate education," he said.

Elam said  the university needs to design new ways of learning in response to changing times and changing students.

"This does not mean eschewing teaching techniques of the past, but, rather, strengthening them," he said.

"It means understanding that learning is and must be a collaborative enterprise. That learning must be about faculty concentrating not only on the content of the courses, but on their methodologies of delivery. It means empowering students and faculty to interact, to think, to work differently."

Minutes of June 9 meeting available

The full minutes of the June 9 meeting, including the question-and-answer sessions that followed the presentations (plus a report on the Emeriti Council by David Abernethy, professor emeritus of political science), are available on the Faculty Senate website.