МАГ/The International Association for the Humanities     ЖУРНАЛ МЕЖДУНАРОДНОЙ АССОЦИАЦИИ ГУМАНИТАРИЕВ

We are Devoted to Change

Обложка каталога программы курсов «Thinking Matters», которые в 2012-2013 учебном году Стэнфорд предлагает на выбор своим студентам-первокурсникам. Объем каталога – 54 страницы. В осенний квартал предлагается 16 курсов, зимний – 12 и весенний – 11.

Стэнфордский университет с этого года изменяет формат и тематическое наполнение программы, которая вводит студентов первого курса в интеллектуальную среду университета. До 2012 года эта программа продолжалась весь учебный год, была обязательна для всех первокурсников вне зависимости от их дальнейшей специализации и не предполагала выбора курсов. Нововведение этого года дает возможность выбрать как курс, так и учебный квартал, в течение которого его взять. Программу же в целом составляют курсы, предложенные не только профессорами гуманитарных наук, но и теми, кто преподает научные и инженерные дисциплины.

Dr. Ellen Woods работает со-директором академического и административного подразделения университета, которое разработало и теперь внедряет новый подход к введению первокурсников в университетское знание.

Мы встретились с ней в конце сентября, в самый канун нового учебного года.

Natalia Koulinka: What are the new objectives for freshmen education and how is the university going to meet them?

Ellen Woods: The goals are multiple. One of the most basic it is to create a transition from a high school to a college education. It means to help students to develop their critical thinking, analytical, reading, writing, or speaking skills, and, as necessary, their quantitative skills to bring them up to college level of how to learn. It is also about introducing students to major questions that have no right or wrong answers, but these questions are helping students develop all these skills. So, that is the main goal – skills development and preparation for being a member of the community. How do we do it? Through a variety of courses that represent a whole range of topics and questions. In a special bulletin, at the head of each course description you see a set of questions that the courses are met to explore. Students select the courses on the basis of their interest in exploring those questions. Selected readings for the courses also relate to those questions. The topics of the courses are varied: scientific method, how you prove something with evidence from science; or how a literary interpretation have high degree of validity based on the use of evidence and close reading; how students articulate their understanding of what freedom means in relation to justice and issues of national security. These are the range of questions that our Thinking Matters courses address.

N.K.: How is the new course titled “Thinking Matters” different from the one that was called “Introduction to the Humanities”?

E.W.: The Introduction to the Humanities was a former requirement that ended last year. For 15 years it represented Stanford’s commitment to liberal education. We had 30 weeks to develop the students’ readiness for their, sophomore, second year.

The Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford, conducted in 2010, recommended that we revise that first-year program. And we come up with Thinking Matters as a replacement. From the students’ prospective, the main difference is instead of taking three courses all year long, now students only have to take one course in fall, or winter, or spring quarter. And we have to intensify their learning in that 10 weeks that a quarter lasts. To achieve that, the classes are smaller. In addition, we have a new program, a new aspect of instruction, called Individualized Workshop, or Tutorials. All students meet with their post-doctoral lecturer three times a quarter for individualized and personal attention. We could not achieve that level of individual support with the Introduction to the Humanities program because it was all year long and we had too many students. Now, when students are only taking one course per year, we can put extra attention to every individual during that course. In addition to Thinking Matters, there is another requirement – a Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR) that focuses on writing. So, two courses are required in a freshmen year. To realize the difference, I would like to emphasize that it used to be four courses in their freshmen year: the writing course and three quarters of the Introduction to the Humanities course.

N.K.: Are the current goals different from those of the previous years?

E.W.: Yes and no. The continued emphasis on transition from high school to college is part of the previous freshmen program. One of the differences though is that previous program had limitations on the types of disciplines that could participate; that is, they were all humanities only with a very few sprinkling of other things. What this change recognizes is that humanities have no monopoly on developing thinking skills. By having a collaborative ownership on this project of bringing freshmen into the university, we enrich environment for both students and the faculty.

N.K.: Have Stanford students changed during the last 10-15 years?

E.W.: Yes, clearly there has been much social and demographic change in the society. If you think 15 years back, when the program the Introduction to the Humanities was introduced at Stanford, many things that now have an impact on the development of a 17 or 18-year person, did not exist.

From the prospective of secondary education in the United States, the change has been emphasis on testing. Students are assessed on a variety of measures and those tested outcomes have been driving the policies and the resource for support from kindergarten through 12th grade. It means that current students are more tied to the notion of the right answer. If you gave the right answer, you are very smart, and you deserve some kind of recognition. So, when they get here, we have a mind set to confront. Basically, we are not asking students to memorize the right answer or to ask the professor to tell them the right answer. We are mostly concern with having students develop deeply important questions. And training in asking questions is very different from training in finding THE right answer, or giving the right answer.

So, yes, our students have changed, their educational experience has changed and our emphasis in these, new, courses reflects what we need to do in order to get them engaged in discovery, high level cognitive engagement with topics and subject matter. They also aimed at developing of what I would call a civil discourse of disagreement; at learning how to have this discourse. By trying to help each other, they learn more about the other’s point of view, about multiple prospectives. That is part of what we are working on at this point.

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