University of California-Irvine leaders have decided that their existing mathematics and science curriculums are no longer adequate to prepare students to meet the needs of modern society.
From that seemingly simple and straightforward proposition, U.C.-Irvine is about to embark on an ambitious strategy to modernize its teaching. The university will infuse technology into all teaching, forging partnerships with professional associations, and create a series of interdisciplinary curricula.
These ground-breaking changes and institutional commitment led the National Science Foundation to include U.C.-Irvine among 19 colleges and universities to receive monetary awards in the second year of the agency's Institution-Wide Reform of Undergraduate Education (IR) initiative.
"U.C.-Irvine has made the kind of commitment to comprehensively restructure, not merely tinker, at the margins of reform, which is what the IR initiative is about," said Luther S. Wiliams, who heads NSF's education and human resources directorate.
The UC-Irvine initiative is among many of the progressive changes being made by two and four-year institutions that NSF is recognizing through awards of up to $200,000 in the second year of the IR initiative.
Florida A&M University, for example, is an awardee for developing a multidisciplinary science course for non-science majors and creating a faculty professional development initiative that emphasizes effective use of technology.
At Millikin University, a small school in Decatur, Ill., introductory science courses and related labs will link the study of biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics to other scientific and technological disciplines. The school will also require students to teach a class in local K-12 schools.
"The problems of the future will be very complex and they will require interdisciplinary approaches and solutions," Norman Fortenberry, who heads NSF's division of undergraduate education, points out. "At too many institutions, there is not a mechanism for faculty to work with their counterparts in other disciplines, nor to team-teach across disciplines."
NSF launched the IR initiative in 1996 to reward institutions that have made significant improvements in the quality of undergraduate education and are now prepared to introduce sweeping changes to extend those innovations to benefit all students. The changes reflect the institutions' response to the new demands faced by undergraduates to succeed in a highly technological society.
Williams said the IR initiative addresses serious national deficiencies in undergraduate education that were highlighted in a report, Shaping the Future: New Expectations for Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology. NSF published the report last summer.
The IR awards complement another NSF initiative, the Recognition Awards for the Integration of Research and Education (RAIRE), which provided $500,000 grants to 10 research-intensive universities for their commitments to blending their research and education programs. RAIRE recognizes the prior achievements of large research universities, says Williams, while the IR intiative is open to all institutions that enroll undergraduate students and focuses on planned new programs to improve education in math, science and engineering.
Awards for Institution-wide Reform of Undergraduate Education
- Alverno College: The women's college in Milwaukee is expanding the
quantitative reasoning requirement for all students beyond the
introductory level, including non-math and science majors.
- Brooklyn College - City University of New York: The school's "across
the curriculum" project systematically links quantitative skills
through core course in math, natural sciences and social sciences.
- Broward Community College: This two-year Florida college's new
Exploration Center will have an integrated math, science, engineering
and technology curriculum with multi-course projects and interaction
with business and govenment agencies.
- City College - City University of New York: The school is increasing
the engagement of faculty in undergraduate education through new
reward structures, formal training in curriculum design and mentoring
and support systems.
- Colorado School of Mines: The school is in the fourth year of a
curriculum reform process, currently implementing a unique
undergraduate engineering curriculum that will include new texts, lab
experiments and multimedia materials.
- Colorado State University: A two-year project will overhaul math,
science and computing skills for non-science majors.
Multi-disciplinary, lab-based core courses have clearly defined links
between the impact of science and technology on society and the
essential role of non-science disciplines.
- Drexel University: Drexel is building faculty-wide teaching
development activities based on successful programs in math/science
integration with engineering, widening the effort into investigative,
problem-solving bioscience curriculums.
- Hampshire College: The Massachusetts institution's expanded Inquiry
Project Courses include an original research project to expand student
skills in critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, collaborative
research and communications.
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology: M.I.T. is developing
discipline-specific communications instruction and practice into its
technical and scientific undergraduate programs, recognizing that
scientists' and engineers' professional success depends upon how they
communicate to wide audiences.
- Milikin University: The Illinois university is fundamentally changing
introductory science courses across disciplines to increase student
understanding of the linkages between them, and applying this
knowledge to solve problems in the local community.
- New York City Technical College - City University of New York: The
revision of core mathematics and science courses includes identifying
connections among the courses and developing experience-based problems
that enhance student skills in critical thinking.
- Portland State University: A Science Cornerstone Project of
interdisciplinary courses is designed to achieve improved science
literacy among students majoring in fields outside science, math,
engineering and technology.
- Sinclair Community College: The Dayton, Ohio college is employing new
methods to align curriculum format to modern delivery systems and
addressing new ways to align curriculum outcomes with the requirements
of the modern work place.
- Southwestern College: The Kansas school is structuring research
projects to address real problems. Freshmen students conduct an
across-the-curriculum project in water quality, formulating hypotheses
and designing experiments, then generating proposals for research by
the next freshman class.
- Trinity College, Connecticut: Philosophy course labs are being
developed to model those found in science departments to focus on
students' problem-solving skills. Cross-disciplinary techniques in
math and science associated with philosophy to improve math and
science literacy within a humanities setting.
- University of California - Irvine: Major curriculum changes in math,
computer science and engineering (and engineering literacy), along
with a new infusion of educational technology and multidisciplinary
curricular committees are part of a Campuswide Reform Initiative.
- University of Delaware: Interdisciplinary faculty teams are creating
freshman and sophomore-based Foundation Courses in science and
engineering to increase analytical skills, better communication,
teamwork and resource utilization.
- Worcester Polytechnic Institute: Addressing concerns of students that
introductory science and mathematics courses have little relation to
one another, WPI has begun a system of peer-assisted cooperative
learning, open-ended group course projects and integrated
computational and instructional technology.