The Evolution of the Nature and Scope of the Teaching of the Liberal Arts at Apeejay Stya University 2010 to 2016

From its beginning, Apeejay Stya University distinguished itself by its Core Curriculum of eleven subject areas of knowledge which were to be mastered by all students and which were to give them the Liberal Arts competencies/skills which are discussed below. Within the first two years it became clear that too many of the courses in the core were merely inroductory courses to individal disciplines and did little if anything to fulfill the purposes of the Liberal Arts. This in part may be attributed to the fact none of our faculty had experienced the Liberal Arts during their own education.

I came to the University in the fall of 2012 in large measure to work with faculty in helping them to master the concepts and practices of the teaching the Liberal Arts.

In a real sense the Liberal Arts constitute not just a corpus of knowledge but a way of looking at that knowledge in a way that is holistic and global rather than narrow and overly scholastic. The Liberal Arts are often treated as though they are synonymous with General Education Requirements but this is not necessarily true. Traditionally , courses that imparted basic skills such as “English Composition,” or “Introduction to French”or basic science or technical courses such as “Fundamentals of Calculus,” or “Introductory Engineering” that are designed for students entering a particular major rather than being aimed at the general student body were not considered as part of a Liberal Arts Core of knowledge

There is certainly a difference in spirit as well as in content between a basic Survey of Astronomy course and one which explores scientific phenomena in a context of social and political and even religious issues and which might be named “Why is the Sky Blue?” or “Physics for Poets.”

During our opening discussions the Liberal Arts were defined as those general education courses which satisfy the higher order thought processes of the major traditional epistemological divisions of knowledge, e.g., the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, and of more recent additions to the cannon of studies, i.e., global perspectives, gender studies, ethnic studies, etc. Originally we sought to avoid courses that were merely introductory surveys to a particular program of studies and not aimed at the general student body. This definition guided our work in creating a series of team –taught courses that focused on issues from the perspective of two or more different disciplines.

While these courses were, and remain popular and successful, concerns continued about those Core courses were introductory to a major or highly technical. Indeed some of technical majors felt that if the Core were to contain no courses in their major area, their students would not have sufficient knowledge in their field to be competitive as graduates.

During 2012-13 we dealt with the issue of could an existing course be made over and be included as a Liberal Arts offering.

While traditional views of the Liberal Arts in the US have focused on content, we also, under the guidance of our Pro Chancellor, began to focus on the very real skills and competencies that could be inculcated by a Liberal Arts approach to learning. These competencies include critical thinking; critical reading; logic, numeracy; effective communication in all modes; an understanding of how the subject matter taught in any course in any field can have an impact on society, culture, economy, and even on the very lives of individuals.

The skills/competency approach to the Liberal Arts not only made it possible for individual instructors to redesign their courses but also served as a model for “Liberalizing” discipline specific introductory courses.

By the summer of 2013 itwas decided that “the Liberal Arts philosophy and way of approaching knowledge will become a central component of all Core Courses offered at the University.”

A year later, the very term “eleven Core Courses” was replaced by the more descriptive, “eleven Core knowledge/competency domains.”

At the same the above developments were occurring, there was also an evolution in the way material was presented to the students. From 2012 we had stressed the importance of an interdisciplinary/multidisiplinary approach to knowledge and while that was successful in showing students that different disciplines could perceive similar events differently, it still showed knowledge in a compartmentalized way. We are now applying a transdisciplinary approach to our courses:

As this approach is not yet well understood I cite the literature of the Greenwich School of the UK, a pioneer in the field:

“Most educators are familiar with multi- or interdisciplinary approach to curriculum. These approaches involve more than one subject area and focus on a common concepts/understandings or processes. The transdisciplinary unit of study is transcendent of the curriculum content and focuses on authentic learning, new perspectives, current issues within the context of multiple disciplines.

“Examples of such units deal with issues such as the environment, hunger, and equality. While multi- and interdisciplinary approaches use a theme to learn about multiple disciplines; the transdisciplinary approach focuses on the inquiry or process itself through the lense of those disciplines. The inquiry topic or issue should be meaningful and relevant to the student, a problem that is complex and worthy of solving, can provide multiple perspectives for addressing and providing solutions.

“Basarab Nicolescu in The Transdisciplinary Evolution of Learning writes about a new kind of education for the 21st Century emphasizing four pillars:

  • Learning to know - This is the capability of making connections, adapting to changes and knowing how to learn. Most notably, this refers to the inquiry-based approach to learning such as the scientific process or research and information fluency.
  • Learning to do - transdisciplinary learning is framed in the idea of project-based learning or performance tasks that demonstrate the ability to apply knowledge in a creative manner.
  • Learning to live together - the interconnectedness of the world makes this aspect even more urgent for a need to be able to collaborate on a local and global scale.
  • Learning to be - the life-long journey of self-discovery must be part of the process of learning.

With transdisciplinary learning, a framing topic/big idea or "burning issue" serves as an overarching theme for the inquiry process.“

Dr. Joel M.Rodney

Dean Academics

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