Update from Knowledge, Teaching, and Learning Working Group

Chair: Barbara Mather, Board of Managers

Convener: Connie Hungerford, Provost

As the charge indicates, we have been wrestling with the implications of changes in disciplines—in techniques of study, pedagogical strategies, connections to other fields, and volume of information—and changes in the diversity of the student body at Swarthmore, from how differently students use technology or learn to the breadth of experiences, preparations, and perspectives they bring to the classroom. Our work began in part with a faculty meeting in which Constance Hungerford, Tim Burke, Steve O’Connell, Eric Jensen, and Patricia White spoke to the faculty about some of the issues we should seriously engage. These issues included departmental structure, our ability to maintain the necessary flexibility in the curriculum, how we help students see connections between work done in different courses and at different times, visual literacy and ethical production of work in this remix culture, and the increasing challenges of teaching in a model that favors personal interaction, even as the breadth of knowledge expected of faculty also increases.  Subsequent conversations among faculty members across campus, as well our own work, has led to a division into four areas which smaller subgroups will investigate further:

  • Curriculum of the Future: In this culture of expanding knowledge, how do we decide what subjects we should be teaching, what we need to offer? How do we best engage faculty in defining these areas and in supporting them as their own areas shift and expand? How do we best incorporate interdisciplinarity and global dimensions while retaining flexibility?
  • Competencies: Which competencies do we teach and how do we provide them? Students will need writing, oral and other communication skills, visual intelligence, language fluency, research and critical thinking abilities, cross-cultural awareness and scientific literacy, just to name a few. Should faculty teach these competencies in courses or are there other models, like workshops outside of classes, that would be better? Are there technologies we should employ like Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative?
  • Pedagogy: Are there changes faculty should consider in the way that they teach and if so, how do we support them making those adjustments? What is the role that summer research, seminars and technology should play in teaching?
  • Recruitment and Support of a Diverse Faculty: What are the factors affecting and best mechanisms for recruiting faculty? How should we structure salaries, leaves, and travel and research opportunities so that faculty are best supported in their work and in their teaching?