Innovative Courses, Integrative Curriculum: H&S Leads the Way

The School of Humanities and Sciences has long been a leader in integrative approaches to learning. Now more than ever, H&S is taking inventive approaches, experimenting with exciting new block courses and formats of teaching, to realize President Rochon’s vision of a more integrative curriculum.

This year, the honors program offered two innovative block (half-semester) courses which centered around the work of a particular distinguished visiting speaker. Bob Sullivan, director of the honors program and associate professor of speech communication, was enthusiastic about expanding students' opportunity to interact with renowned scholars: "We have these world-famous scholars coming to campus, and it’s a great opportunity to make these visits as educationally enriching as possible."

Craig Duncan, assistant professor of philosophy and religion, led one of these new one-credit courses. The seminar was titled "Capable World Citizens: Martha Nussbaum and Cosmopolitanism", and it addressed the work of Professor Nussbaum, Ithaca College's 2010 Distinguished Speaker in the Humanities. Nussbaum is a leading contemporary political philosopher, known for her defense of cosmopolitanism and criticism of nationalism, as well as for her defense of the "capabilities approach" within political philosophy. The purpose of the seminar was to help students understand Nussbaum's philosophy, and to prepare them to engage fully with the material, and with her, when she led the final session of the seminar. The day she taught the course, Duncan recalls, "Professor Nussbaum opened the floor to questions, and the students did a great job, even challenging some of her answers and asking critical follow-up questions. She said she was impressed. This new [course] format gives visitors a sense of how capable our students are, as well as a more accurate and impressive picture of Ithaca College than had they just swooped in and out to give a lecture." It also enriched students' educational experience, expanding their knowledge beyond the one-shot public lecture into a weeks-long engagement with a scholar's ideas.

Professor Jean Hardwick, associate professor of biology, agrees. She taught an honors block course titled "The Brain as Text: A Journey into Consciousness" in which students studied the work of Jonah Lehrer, the 2010 C. P. Snow Speaker. Lehrer is an important new voice in explaining neuroscience to the public. The seminar examined Lehrer's two most recent works, Proust Was a Neuroscientist and How We Decide, within the context of current scientific knowledge about the brain and consciousness. According to Professor Hardwick, "The seminar was a huge success." She noted that the innovative structure of the class "really leveled the playing field with regard to year, majors, etc. Everyone's opinion was valid and interesting. All of the students indicated that they would definitely want to take another course like this."

The honors program is expanding its use of block courses to provide alternative integrative learning contexts for its students. This fall, Annette Levine, assistant professor of modern languages and literatures, will be leading an innovative honors seminar titled Experiencing Teatro. In this course, students will stage a play from the Spanish, Latin American, or U.S. Latino Spanglish traditions. Through the play production project, the course will organically integrate elements of Spanish, literary, and theater studies.

H&S has also been a leader in the College-wide (IC)2 (Ithaca College Integrative Curriculum) initiative. This new integrative curriculum framework prepares students for success in a complex and evolving society by bringing together a variety of perspectives and disciplines in ways that allow students to deepen their understanding of a particular subject and draw their own connections. Among the pilot (IC)2 courses in the fall 2009 term was a half-semester course titled Representing South Asia, taught by assistant professors Denise Nuttall of anthropology, Anjali Nerlekar of English, and Jason Freitag of history. The course integrated students from all three departments enrolled in separate courses taught by each professor and focused on the meeting of these disciplines in the study of South Asia. The course involved seminar-style classes co-taught by all three professors, as well as two experiential components: a trip to a Hindu temple outside Rochester and a trip to experience South Asian culture in New York City. The course will serve as a model for integrative learning projects across the curriculum.