Faculty task force proposes new system for distribution requirements

In the 2016 school year, a group of Colby faculty members put forth a motion to establish a task force. This task force would reevaluate and potentially redesign student distribution requirements.

The current model has been around for over 20 years at Colby and certain faculty, including Associate Provost and Dean of Faculty Russell Johnson, felt that a change was needed. In a recent interview with the Echo, Johnson described the inspiration for these changes.

“It kind of came out of some conversations several years ago,” Johnson said. “The faculty have a retreat usually at the end of every academic year and we all gather and talk about big picture issues like this. A conversation happened at one of these faculty retreats about how we’re not sure that the requirements that we have now really serve the needs of Colby students for the twenty-first century, and that maybe we ought to rethink what our requirements are.”

“The academic affairs committee put a motion to the faculty meeting to form a task force, and the faculty as a whole voted to take on the job of reviewing the requirements,” Johnson said. “The task force is meant to do research, think about the question, and then come up with some recommendations to the faculty that then could be approved for future use.”

According to Johnson, the first year after the establishment of the task force was largely focused on research. 

The group looked at the requirements at various institutions and compared them to the current system in place at Colby. 

The task force recently drafted a proposal to replace this system with a “Modes of Inquiry” Model. The intent behind this model is to not only focus on providing student with information from various fields of knowledge, but also to introduce them to different ways of thinking. 

The proposal for these new requirements describes “Modes of Inquiry” as the following:

“Requirements focused around modes of inquiry would introduce students to how different kinds of intellectual work are done in different fields of knowledge; that is, they would teach the students both a body of knowledge, and also the modes of inquiry that different kinds of scholars use to search for answers, evaluate evidence, and generate new knowledge.”

“Students would learn specific methodological and theoretical approaches as part of both acquiring and generating knowledge.”

“The difference with the modes of inquiry is that it’s formulated around different ways of evaluating and developing new knowledge,” Johnson told the Echo

“So we’re thinking about how we want to prepare Colby students not just to be people who learn a whole bunch of facts and information that’s already out there, but to be prepared to be leaders of the future who are evaluating information and who are generating new knowledge for the future.”

The requirements, which are a part of this proposed model, include: Inquiry into Power and Inequality,  Scientific Inquiry, Artistic and Creative Inquiry, Historical Inquiry, Critical Interpretation and Inquiry, and Quantitative Inquiry. 

Members of the task force have consulted members of the Student Government Association (SGA) who seem to be in favor of the new system. 

“The task force has had many meetings with all the different academic departments,” Johnson explained.

“We’ve had surveys of the faculty last year, some of us went and met with SGA about the modes of inquiry approach we were taking, and they gave a positive approval to that idea. And we’ve gotten approval in principle for the idea from the faculty as well and so now we’re kind of working out the details and then we will come up with a more formalized proposal which would have to be voted on by the faculty before it could be implemented.”

Working groups have also been established during the spring of 2020 to further specify each requirement in the new system. If the requirements are approved, the task force will then review the course list at Colby and assign the six requirements to course which meet their criteria. 

Johnson explained that although the shift to this new model focuses more on ways of thinking than just simply acquiring knowledge, it is still a priority of the College to ensure that students take classes from a variety of disciplines. 

“You could imagine a possibility where a course that satisfies the requirement for Historical Inquiry isn’t taught by a professor in the history department,” Johnson said.

“[However] the course would have to meet a very strictly defined set of learning goals for historical inquiry or wouldn’t count for that requirement. Any particular requirement is almost certainly going to be possible to be satisfied in more than one department. But if we set them up correctly it would be impossible to do them all in just one or two departments, because we do want students to be exposed to a wide variety of approaches.”

Johnson also explained that the approval and transition into the new system may take some time. He wants to assure students that only those enter the College after its approval will be affected. 

“We have a general policy that whenever requirements for a major or requirements for overall graduation are changed, it only applies to entering classes that start after that changes was made,” Johnson said. 

“And so it’s true that for a period of four years there will be older students working under the older system and newer students working under the newer system.”

For now, students should continue to follow the current area distribution requirements. Those who are sticking around a little longer and are curious as to how this new system will affect students will just have to wait and see.

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