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College of Arts & Sciences

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A&S Themes

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What Is a Curricular Theme?

The educational programs at Ohio University are designed to provide students with opportunities to acquire the critical skills and knowledge they need for successful careers, engaged citizenship and fulfilling lives. With respect to knowledge, students are expected to develop depth of knowledge (through concentrated study in the major) as well as breadth of knowledge (delivered through the general education requirements at the university level and/or distribution requirements within the College of Arts & Sciences). Curricular themes represent a strategy that can be used by students to rationalize completion of the breadth of knowledge requirements. This is achieved through a set of multi-disciplinary courses and extracurricular activities organized around a topic of importance for the 21st century. Ideally, a theme includes content from the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences. However, it is not essential to have content from all these domains to have a viable theme. In its simplest conception, a theme is simply a set of related courses and experiences that provide a guide to fulfilling a substantial portion of the breadth of knowledge requirement.

Why Are Curricular Themes Being Pursued?

Development of themes is being considered for several reasons.

  • Building the themes around the challenges of the 21st century provides students with the perspectives they will need as engaged citizens.
  • By combining the perspectives of the social sciences, natural sciences, and the humanities, students will gain a broad but integrated intellectual experience that will give full and tangible meaning to the idea of the liberal arts.
  • Themes could be used as a vehicle for revitalizing student understanding and enthusiasm for our distribution requirements while improving the coherence of the curriculum.
  • Themes provide A&S with a strategy for marketing our college to prospective students and parents.
  • Themes provide opportunities for multi-disciplinary teaching and curricula and greater collaboration across departmental and disciplinary boundaries.

What Are a Few Examples of Curricular Themes?

The following are currently under development:

  • War and peace
  • Making and breaking the law
  • Sustainability
  • Wealth and poverty
  • Food studies
  • Race, gender and identity

Other possibilities under discussion include:

  • Human impacts of technology
  • Future Studies
  • Water and Energy

What Problem(s) Are Themes Designed To Solve?

Themes provide a vehicle for revitalizing student understanding and enthusiasm for our breadth of knowledge requirements while improving the coherence of the curriculum. Students will be better able to appreciate the value of the breadth requirement because they will be building a more sophisticated understanding of the issues/problems/challenges addressed by the theme. They will be better able to articulate how the breadth requirement contributed to their Ohio University experience in concrete terms. Another benefit is that the course offerings associated with a theme can be used by a student as a registration guide. This should yield a superior approach to selecting courses that fulfill breadth of knowledge requirements.

How Does a Theme Differ From a Major?

A major is designed to provide deep knowledge of a particular subject or discipline, while themes are problem-oriented and multi-disciplinary in nature. A theme introduces a student to the complexity of a significant global challenge or issue using a variety of perspectives. While a major has proscriptive set of requirements, a theme has no requirements per se. Students will vary in the number and variety of theme-related courses and activities they complete.

How Does a Theme Differ From a Certificate?

A certificate is composed of a set of courses and experiences related to a specific topic. As with a major, a set of requirements is associated with completion of a certificate. A theme has no requirements- it is simply a set of interrelated courses and extracurricular experiences. A set of courses and/or experiences drawn from a theme can be the basis of a certificate, but not all students following a theme will complete courses necessary for the certificate.

How Do Themes Support Curricular Innovation?

As faculty from different departments and colleges come together to develop a theme, they share ideas for multi-disciplinary approaches to course content, collaboration, team teaching and the integration of extracurricular activities into a coherent educational experience.

How Might a Fully Elaborated Curricular Theme Be Organized?

There is no "one size fits all" model for the themes. Each will have its own structure and organization. That said, the following template has several attractive features.

  • Students could start with a freshman/sophomore level course designed to introduce a theme and its complexity. This course would be designed and taught by a team of faculty who provide multi-disciplinary perspectives. Students would be given opportunities to develop fundamental academic skills such as critical thinking, writing, oral communication, quantitative literacy and information literacy within the context of the theme. Mastery of content knowledge or a particular skill would not be the goal of the course, but rather, consciousness-raising about the complexity of the theme, promoting intellectual curiosity about the course content, setting standards for intellectual engagement and preparing students for theme-related courses embedded within departmental curricula. A number of themes can be considered for development. A few examples are sustainability, living in a diverse world, technology and life, or human-environment interactions. This just scratches the surface. One can imagine quite a few. The idea is that a theme includes the natural sciences, social sciences, the arts and humanities.
  • Following the completion of the introductory theme course, students would enroll in disciplinary courses related to the theme. These courses would elaborate on theme-relevant content knowledge and skills. Ideally, these theme-relevant courses would be spread across the natural sciences, social sciences, the arts and humanities.
  • A culminating experience could be provided by a junior/senior level multi-disciplinary course, where students further elaborate their theme-related content knowledge and skills. This course could be designed as a seminar, or team-oriented project course, or theme-related capstone. The goal of the course would be moving students past an appreciation of the problems related to the theme to critical analysis and problem solutions. Course activities would support these goals. Additional opportunities to develop core skills (team-building, critical thinking, writing, oral communication, quantitative literacy and information literacy) would be part of the course.
  • Extracurricular experiences such as study abroad, undergraduate research, service learning and internship opportunities related to the themes could be integrated into the learning experience.

College of Arts & Sciences