Expanding the Open Curriculum

by Stephen Beale on December 4, 2009

This Brown Daily Herald column probes one of the conundrums of the open curriculum: Why is it that with all the freedom students are given, many don’t end up getting to take what they really want? Here is his diagnosis of the problem:

During freshman year, and to a slightly lesser extent sophomore year, there’s nothing really substantial to guide our course selections. We come to Brown with some interests, we use those interests to focus our course selections and, more often than not, we end up abandoning those interests, at least in part. ….

Because we don’t really have a firm focus in the beginning, we’re kind of blindly shooting bullets at department buildings and hoping to hit something worthwhile. The average student takes courses in a bunch of areas that he thinks he will enjoy, and gradually narrows down his interests until he finds something in which he wants to concentrate. While this method is certainly effective, it severely cuts away at the number of elective courses we have to use in our later years.

Put another way, one of the weaknesses of the open curriculum is that students are not always given the guidance and structure they need to make wise choices.  This is especially the case for those students who choose to use their freedom to pursue a course of study along the lines of the traditional core curriculum.

The student writer comes up with a somewhat creative solution: allow undergraduates to apply for a fifth, tuition-free year during which they can take courses outside of their concentration. Unfortunately, given Brown’s budget deficit, this isn’t terribly too practical. But we certainly hope students, faculty, and administrators explore other ways to build more structure into the open curriculum.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Andrew E. Kurtzman December 4, 2009 at 2:57 pm

A 5th year would be unreasonable; a first semester, however, during which all classes are half-length and mandatory pass fail, would allow for a great deal of experimentation. 8-10 courses! Very “Brown,” and it might just be feasible.

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