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Great Books Curriculum: Final Report Arapahoe Community College
Great Books Curriculum: Final Report
Arapahoe Community College
Submitted May 2006 by Dr. Lance Rubin, Humanities Chair
Part 1: Assessment Statistical Report
The following chart shows where we began in the spring semester 2004, where we are currently, having completed the spring 2006 semester, and where we see ourselves at the end of the next academic year.
Additional Components of Great Books Curriculum
Part 2: Tracking Students
Working with our registrar, Arapahoe’s Great Books classes are tracked via the assigned section number. Traditional class sections at ACC are listed as L01, L02, etc. Online classes are noted as E01, E02, etc., and hybrid classes (half online-half traditional) are given F01, F02, and so on.
Great Books sections are given section numbers that begin with "GB." So a Great Books section of English Composition would appear as "ENG 121 GB1" in the schedule and on the student’s transcript. Because of this section numbering system, we are easily able to identify students who have taken Great Books classes.
This spring and summer, the entire Colorado Community College System, of which Arapahoe is a part, is transferring to a new SIS computer system (Banner) in the coming year. As a result, we are currently uncertain how we can use the system to track students. Therefore, we are currently tracking students through Lucy Graca of the English Department. She is doing this manually, which is time-consuming but accurate, given the fluid state of our technology.
Part 3: Assessment
At the end of the year, we handed out a short survey in all Great Books sections (see attached). We’re trying to determine whether our promotion of the program was effective, whether students felt they had benefited from the classes, what suggestions they had for future Great Books courses, and (perhaps most importantly) whether they would take another Great Books course again.
We are currently considering more objective means of determining whether reading and critical thinking skills are demonstrably stronger in students who have taken Great Books classes, but we are working with logistical issues. We are trying to compare the skills of the Great Books students with the rest of the student body. Some of the challenges facing a meaningful assessment include:
The solution to these problems can be addressed if we only assess those Great Books courses that also have traditional (non-Great Books) sections. Great Books professors teaching multiple sections of English Composition, College Algebra, Macroeconomics, and Survey of Humanities, for example, can give the same final exam or project and then compare the results from the Great Books sections with the non-Great Books sections. This will leave out certain classes, such as Shakespeare, C.S. Lewis, and Masterpieces of Literature. We will be discussing this in our meeting at the beginning of the fall semester.
Arapahoe Community College in Littleton, Colorado, began its Great Books program in the spring of 2004. It was initiated by two English faculty, Lucy Graca and Patrick Dolan, who felt that ACC students would benefit from such a program. In addition, other faculty thought it would enhance the college’s already excellent academic reputation. We started small, as most faculty and administrators were focused on how to maintain our educational mission and priorities in a time of declining funds for higher education in Colorado, with the community colleges being hit especially hard.
Initial classes included English Composition and Introduction to Literature, with Psychology working on modifying the curriculum to include more of the Great Books authors/readings. Other faculty were either not interested or were not initially willing to modify their courses (ACC faculty have a 5-5 course load).
The ACC administration was also cautious in its acceptance of the program, with some administrators not certain that the Great Books program would appeal to our student population. Eventually, with some gentle persuasion, (and realizing that it would not cost the college money if students did not buy into the program), they gave their consent.
We also had meetings with the registrar, who was uncertain as to the ability of ACC to modify transcripts, as we are part of a statewide community college system. As mentioned above, we were able to modify Great Books section numbers and print the required Great Books accolade on the transcript.
There were similar issues with the contract for the grant, with our accounting officer noticing some conditions which ACC, again, as part of a statewide system, could not comply with. After various communications with the partners in Chicago, we were able to resolve these issues and proceed with pedagogical issues.
By the fall of 2004, word had spread and faculty had the summer to rework their syllabi (which, in the case of many Literature and Survey of Humanities classes, did not require much tweaking, as over 50 percent of the primary reading was already from Great Books authors). Lucy Graca met face-to-face with other faculty members in their offices, explaining the program and its benefits, and then held a meeting for those who expressed interest. Most ended up seeing the value of the class and/or saw this as an opportunity to approach their classes from a different perspective, particularly Erica Johnson in College Algebra, Joan Anderssen in Macroeconomics, and Celia Norman in Biology.
We chose our theme - "the pursuit of happiness" - with a strong consensus, and discussed the criteria for the Great Books Certificate. Most of the other partner institutions believe that passing any Great Books class should count toward a Great Books achievement award. However, ACC faculty believed that this was, perhaps, not a high enough standard, as many of our classes had been teaching these readings already, prior to winning the Great Books grant, and were uncomfortable with a straight-C student being singled out for accomplishing something significant. We decided that four [Great Books] classes with a "B" or better would qualify a student to earn the certificate and acknowledgement on their transcript.
The program subsequently attracted more faculty and students each semester. Our strength, we think, is the fact that we do include classes outside of the humanities - psychology, math, economics, biology - in the program, which benefits our students who are, more often than not, looking for core transfer classes.
However, challenges still exist. According to our advisors - as well as anecdotal evidence from our students - there is the perception that these courses are more difficult, and therefore, students are avoiding them. And indeed, the enrollment for certain Great Books classes seemed lower than in the past (or compared to other non-Great Books sections of the same course), although they did fill up as other classes became full and closed.
The fact is, some of these classes are more difficult. Reading Pythagoras and Einstein in College Algebra, or Marx and Keynes in Macroeconomics, is not easy. And when students hear that other classmates are not required to read these texts, there is the perception among some that the Great Books class is harder. While some students appreciate the challenge and feel better for having taken the class, some do not. This is something we must be aware of in an era of fiscal restraint. We do not want enrollments to suffer or to have students scared away from taking classes.
Still, we are growing, with other disciplines like Political Science adding a Great Books section next semester, and others still seriously thinking about it, like Sociology and French. We are confident that the program will succeed and continue to be a benefit to our students and their educational development.
We would be happy to answer questions and to help anyone starting this process. Please feel free to contact Professor Lucy Graca (email@example.com) or Dr. Lance Rubin (firstname.lastname@example.org).