Grant Promotes Faculty Development for New Core Curriculum

News Story:

Sacred Heart University’s new Core Curriculum, with its emphasis on academic and moral development, has received an $80,000 grant in support of faculty development. The commitment was received from the Davis Educational Foundation of Falmouth, Maine, established by Stanton and Elisabeth Davis after Mr. Davis’s retirement as chairman of Shaw’s Supermarkets, Inc. Half the funds were received last month, and the remainder will be distributed in June 2009.

The University’s innovative common core, The Human Journey, has earned national recognition for its engagement of the liberal arts, the Catholic intellectual tradition, and fundamental questions of human meaning and value. According to Dr. Michelle Loris, who headed the development of this program, the grant will be used for faculty development. Faculty will be involved in developing innovative curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment for courses in The Human Journey. “Much of the research about higher education today points to the need for a multidisciplinary, integrative approach to teaching and learning,” she noted.  “Developing in our students the ability to make, recognize and evaluate connections among disparate disciplines is what multidisciplinary integrative teaching and learning is all about. But fostering integrative learning in students necessitates faculty who have been trained to read, think and teach in ways that promote integrative learning in their classrooms.” This grant provides faculty with the opportunity to train in this integrative way of teaching and learning.

Trustees of the Davis Foundation characterized the new curriculum as both complex and ambitious with “talented faculty and administrators who are up to the challenge.” The Foundation supports New England institutions of higher education that grant degrees on at least the bachelor’s level by providing funding for projects that improve the curriculum, the learning environment, assessment of undergraduate learning outcomes, and faculty development. This grant affirms the University’s new core as an exemplary model of rigorus education in the liberal arts and Catholic intellectual traditions.

The new Common Core weaves liberal learning with values and ethics. The Human Journey’s five foundational courses in the arts and sciences will be unified by a focus on four fundamental questions of human meaning and value: What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to live a life of meaning and purpose? What does it mean to understand and appreciate the natural world? And what does it mean to forge a more just society for the common good? This values-centered and academically rigorous approach to higher education earned the University a place among a select 23 institutions of higher education chosen by the Association of American Colleges and Universities. The schools belong to a national consortium called “Core Commitments: Educating Students for Personal and Social Responsibility.”

Dr. Loris, who spearheaded the process of devising the new curriculum, is herself an example of the cross-disciplinary approach to education. She holds doctorates in literature and psychology, and she teaches courses in both literature and psychology. She noted that the Davis Foundation grant will allow 10 professors in the liberal arts and sciences to meet regularly throughout the academic year. Two will come from English, two from history, two from social sciences, two from the natural sciences, and two from religious studies and philosophy. They will discuss texts, ideas, issues and problems while focusing on curricular materials that will integrate the arts and sciences, the Catholic intellectual tradition, and the four core questions. In the spring of 2009, they will gather for an intensive three-day seminar. The process, which will be repeated the following year with 10 other professors, will yield at least 10 cross-disciplinary curricular modules.

Having been encouraged to approach issues across disciplinary borders, this cadre of educators will begin to effect a genuine cultural change at the University. It should involve both faculty and students in multidisciplinary, integrative teaching and learning. As Dr. Loris acknowledges, modern universities often focus on specialization at the expense of integrated multidisciplinary learning, but “fostering students’ abilities to integrate learning – across courses, over time, and between campus and community life – is one of the most important goals and challenges of higher education.”