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Sep 21, 2012

The joys of curricular cooking

In the last couple of weeks, we held a series of meetings to check on the multiple curriculum projects we're undertaking this Fall; 18 projects to be exact, three of which are already completed (they all carried over from last year). These are some of the most enjoyable and intellectually stimulating thing in my job. First, I get to dream, to imagine things done in the right way, and to solve problems. Second, it is a lot of fun to think through each challenge with others. The synergy of thinking within a small group is always impressive to me. My colleagues all have remarkable knowledge of the nuances of their programs, which often cannot be formally represented. But it comes out in these conversations, where we imagine how a program may be changed. If set up properly, a brainstorming session by a small team can be very effective in seeing the unintended consequences, but also in finding creative solutions.

Program development is a special kind of thinking, which I am only beginning to really dig; I don’t think anyone has a firm and scientific grip on it. We always operate within a set of multiple constraints. Some of them have to do with the limited fundamental options. What I mean is, there is only a certain number of ways you can slice a teacher prep program, or a masters’ program. You will probably need a student teaching at the end, and a few other practicum experiences before that. You probably need some methods course, and ed. psych, and a social foundations course. Of course, it is also a lot of fun to think of more radical changes (we have TEIL for that).

Then there is the political landscape within the College – how would this be perceived by faculty within and outside our School? There are economic considerations – if we design a program that is too scary to students to come into, - that would be a mistake. We need to think how program design affects student schedules, and how that schedule fits into their lives. How would they register, how does it affect their financial aid, etc., etc., etc.

One remarkable quality of human brain is that it can tell a holistic story of something that did not happen yet. We can imagine alternative realities. And that allows for a fairly quick modeling of available options. In most cases, we can quickly identify dead ends in our thinking, then go back and try another route. It will probably take computers a very long time to catch up with us in that capacity to imagine.

This process is somewhat similar to cooking – you throw in well-known ingredients, and a couple of new ones, and think about how they fit together, and how they interact. There is an element of accident to it, an element of traditions – we know what works and what does not, - and an element of creativity to it. I highly recommend it.

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