By GINNY BIXBY
The University Faculty Council approved the Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) for the new general education requirements on Sept. 11. The new curriculum was approved on April 3. For this academic year, students currently enrolled at UMW have the option to choose between registering for the previous curriculum or the new curriculum.
The new requirements, which take effect for students enrolling in fall of 2020, include the addition of digital intensive and “after Mary Washington” courses. The latter is satisfied by courses that relate to preparing for life after college. Among other changes, students will only have to take foreign language courses through a 201 level, a reduction from the previous requirement of competency through the 202 level.
“…[The] faculty will be working on identifying the specific courses which will populate these categories over the next month. The goal is to have a complete list of courses to the University Faculty Council by its December meeting for a curriculum that will go into effect next September,” said Tim O’Donnell, associate provost for Academic Engagement and Student Success.
Zach Whalen, English and communication professor and head of the digital studies program, explained that while many classes in the digital studies program will satisfy the digital intensive requirement, the two programs are not necessarily synonymous.
“There isn’t really a relationship between digital studies as a program and digital intensive as a program, except that I happen to be involved in both and that many of the courses that currently count for electives in the communication and digital studies major and the digital studies minor will also be counting as digital intensive classes starting next year,” said Whalen. “There are also a great many more classes besides the current digital studies electives that will count as digital intensive.”
“The way I think of it is that digital intensive courses should have their core in a specific discipline— art, history, philosophy, English, anything— and these are courses that teach students the digital tools, skills and projects that are the state of the art for doing work in that discipline,” said Whalen. “By contrast, digital studies is a discipline unto itself where we look at digital culture, different kinds of digital creativity and specific digital methodologies for asking questions and solving problems that come up in digital contexts.”
The change to the foreign language requirements will significantly affect the Department of Modern Languages and Literature, said department head Elizabeth Lewis.
“Some students will be taking less language classes, which means we will be offering less language classes in the future, especially at the 202 level,” Lewis said.
Lewis said that a lot of the department’s offerings for the next few years will be affected by the number of students who elect to complete the previous general education curriculum. If enough students still need 202 and 205 courses to satisfy requirements, they will continue to be offered.
“We certainly don’t want to leave those students out in the cold,” said Lewis.
Claire Marsala, a senior French and linguistics double major in the education program said that she feels the language requirement should stay the same.
“Almost every other country in the world has their students learn another language, or several, from a young age. A lot of Americans have this selfish idea that everyone else in the world needs to learn English,” said Marsala.
As a foreign language student, Marsala is concerned for the future of the department.
“A lot of people even quit before finishing the requirement and just take the rest at Germanna or NOVA,” said Marsala. “The real question is, will the language department wake up and do something about it, or will the language department slowly shrivel away? We’ve already gone from a language requirement of four semesters to three. If nothing changes, I would expect the requirement to get lowered until it’s gone.”
Lewis said that the department is working on proposals to make foreign language classes fulfill other general education requirements, like the Diverse and Global Perspectives requirement, to incentivize students to take classes in a foreign language even after fulfilling the 201 requirements.
“We’ve talked with other departments about supporting each other where language has a natural fit, like international affairs and international business,” said Lewis.
Lewis emphasized the importance of students studying a foreign language through the 202 level.
“Studying 202 or beyond 202 helps you to be able to actually communicate and be able to travel and meet new friends and use your language in ways to help other people,” she said.
While most upperclassmen have completed the previous requirements and don’t have an incentive to change to the new ones, this class of freshmen has to consider which curriculum is better for them going forward. Once students make the decision, they are not permitted to switch.
Freshman Leeann Haywood said she plans to choose the new requirements.
“My advisor made it seem like I should do the new requirements because of the credits I have coming in,” said Haywood. “I think I already have a lot of them out of the way with the credits I already have from high school.”
Freshman Niki Altenberg has registered for the old curriculum.
“I’m doing the old [requirements] because that’s what I based my schedule off of this semester during orientation,” said Altenberg.
However, Altenberg said she hasn’t gotten a lot of information about the new requirements and what the curriculum entails, and that she wasn’t advised to choose one curriculum or the other.
“Honestly I didn’t even know that there were new ones; they just handed me a sheet [about the old curriculum] during the scheduling process and told me that those were the requirements,” she said.
Haywood agreed. “No one’s really talked to [the freshmen] about it,” she said.