Thursday, February 12, 2009

Now You Tell Me; or, how to design a curriculum after it's already designed

The MLA's Teagle Report has just been released, making recommendations on the structure and coherence of the undergraduate major in English and other modern languages. A lot of the report feels a bit platitudinous, with familiar defenses of the humanities generally, and Literature and Language specifically. I don't disagree with these, but they don't feel like anything so novel as to merit a report.

There are some specific recommendations, though, that will push some buttons, or at least that will exceed the scope and structure of the major in many departments, not least of which is the requirement of study in a second language.

Beyond this, on page 8, are specific recommendations for curricula:

It is our consensus that to serve these goals the curriculum of the major should include courses of the following types:
• courses that develop literacies in reading and writing
• at least one course devoted to slow reading and in-depth study of an artistically great work or works
• at least one small seminar to develop individuals’ capacities to their fullest
• at least one team-taught or interdisciplinary class
• a course on disciplinary issues and scholarly debates
• the opportunity to study abroad
Last year, our department revised our major curriculum (specifically on our core literary and cultural studies track), and devised a new set of requirements to accomplish several goals, some stated and some unstated, but all with what seemed like a sense of better preparing students to complete a university-mandated capstone project (which itself is implemented by the small, seminar-type course).

Many of our additions seem to correspond closely to the Teagle recommendations:
  • A foundations course designed to introduce students to the reading and writing literacies that will be developed over the course of the major
  • A major author course (replacing the Shakespeare requirement, but still to be frequently fulfilled with a Shakespeare course) that might feasibly fulfill the "slow reading" mandate.
  • A methods course (typically a literary or cultural studies theory course) that meets the "scholarly debates" recommendation.
  • A gender/multi-ethnic/transnational course requirement doesn't specifically meet a single demand, but does speak to the report's emphasis on boundary crossing.
But the other boundary crossing that the report emphasizes is disciplinary, here advocated in the form of interdisciplinary or team-taught courses. I think this is a fantastic idea, for pedagogical and political reasons.

I also think that it's the one least llikely to be implemented for reasons having virtually everything to do with cash and the increasing corporate-style management of the university. Team taught courses themselves are "poor uses of resources" since the reduce the efficiency of a seats-per-faculty rationale to department management. Here at BRU, I've been told that in order to do any team teaching, either the class size would have to be doubled, or one faculty member's participation in the course would have to essentially be gratis, an uncompensated overload. As much as two teachers in a classsroom may make great sense for learning, it does't for budgets.

As for interdisciplinary courses, or perhaps more precisely I mean inter-departmental courses, the kinds of turf wars over butts in seats that happen especially at larger institutions often mean that cross-listings and true transdisciplinary coursework is constrained. I know it happens elsewhere, but I can barely even get the theatre department to advertise my English courses on drama and performance, let alone consider an actual interdisciplinary offering. A team-taught course with a theatre faculty member? That seems almost impossible.

So while this kind of resource-sharing and boundary crossing may represent best-practices for education in our field, they seem, at least at my fairly large institution, to run up ahainst the expediencies of efficient labor management and limited access to capital. Figures.

What about you, dear readers? Team teaching? Interdisciplinarity/interdepartmentalism?

1 comment:

JBJ said...

One way to do team teaching with zero impact on budgets/headcounts is to offer linked classes. So, for example, one semester my two sections of comp were linked to a section of general psychology, such that the psych class was made up entirely of my students.

The professor and I had one book in common, but a whole slew of different assignments that took up quite different disciplinary takes on similar questions. It offered many of the benefits of interdisciplinarity, without some of those costs.