Directions

Effective Fall 2005

Directions

The Directions component is intended to introduce students to different ways of considering and understanding human experience which they can apply as they seek meaning in their lives. Directions courses challenge them to see how different perspectives shape the ways in which people interpret ideas and experiences to construct meaning. They emphasize connections between the world of ideas and the “real world.”

Some Directions courses might be interdisciplinary, but most are likely to be offered by specific departments and to carry specific discipline codes. These would not, however, be traditional introduction-to-the-discipline courses with heavy emphasis on the methods of the discipline to exclusion of other possibilities and with an attempt to provide an overview of the whole academic field. Rather these courses might focus on a particular issue or problem or topic of interest within the discipline, especially a topic relevant to students’ own lives. Ideally and whenever possible alternative perspectives and approaches will be woven into the course.

The four Directions essentially represent four different approaches to learning. They are likely, however, to also vary in content since certain topics or problems may lend themselves more readily to certain approaches. In this respect, the Directions are similar to another system of dividing academic subjects, the traditional four category system: the Humanities, the Natural Sciences, the Social Sciences, the Creative Arts. While it may be tempting to match the four Directions with those traditional categories, we would argue this can not be done exactly. The traditional system based the categorization on discipline. The Directions categories which are based more directly on a combination of method of inquiry and content, lend themselves more readily to (and are meant to encourage) inclusion of interdisciplinary courses.

Directions courses are intended to further strengthen the academic skills upon which the First-Year Experience is based. Different directions emphasize different of these, but among them all skills are included. Because these skills are useful in all academic work, students are encouraged to take Directions courses early. Ideally all should be completed by the end of the second year.

Students must take two courses in each of the Directions categories. Directions courses will be a minimum of three credits. Some, for example, Scientific Inquiry courses involving laboratory work, may be more. No Directions course can be required as part of any major.

Creative Thought 6 credits

People need to be creative in order to thrive in our complex and changing world. People need to understand the creative processes that lead to the generation of ideas and to engage in new interpretations of existing ideas. Creative thought courses encourage students to recognize beauty in its many manifestations and to become aware of formal elements of creative expression. These courses also encourage students to view themselves as creative beings, to appreciate creativity in others, and to regard creativity as an essential component in all areas of human endeavor. In these courses, students develop and value perseverance and a tolerance for ambiguity. Students are challenged to appreciate aesthetic forms, to use their imaginations, and to develop the skills and attitudes that allow creativity to flourish: independence and non-conformity, the ability to organize and reorganize information, and the confidence to think in new ways.

Creative Thought courses emphasize the skills of critical thinking, reading, writing, listening and speaking, and working with information technology.

Past and Present 6 credits

In order to comprehend the present and envision the future, we must understand the past. Cultures and societies discern time and construct chronologies of significant events to explain the past, comprehend the present, and envision the future. By examining issues and events that are currently impacting students’ lives, Past and Present courses explore how people interpret causes and effects within events, and how actions and reactions circumscribe the “origin” of an event. These courses encourage students to realize that different times shape different views of the world. Any form of knowledge is vital and in flux. For students to realize that all fields of knowledge are subject to change, they need to study the changes that have taken place within those fields. They also need to understand the dialectic movement between the past and present: just as the past shapes the present, so does the present shape our understanding of the past. There are multiple perspectives and interpretations of the same events and these interpretations are subject to revision.

Past and Present courses emphasize the skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening, critical thinking, and conducting research.

Scientific Inquiry 6-8 credits

Including significant lab/field work The methods of science are powerful tools with which we can attain a clearer understanding of the world. In the modern world, science has real application to all people’s lives. Scientific literacy helps people to make sense of the explosion of information they encounter every day. Scientific Inquiry courses use scientific methodologies to examine relationships between events in the natural world and make students aware that science occurs in a social, cultural, political, and ethical context. Use of scientific methods in laboratory or field settings is an integral part of these courses. As students plan investigations, collect, analyze, and interpret data and develop their ability to propose answers, offer explanations, and make predictions, they come to see both the power and the limitations of science. Students investigate the distinctions between rational thinking and anecdotal argumentation and develop an understanding that answers are never final, but always subject to revision.

Scientific Inquiry courses emphasize the skills of critical thinking, writing, conducting research, quantitative reasoning, working with information technology, and collaborating with others.

Self and Society 6 credits

A rich and productive life encompasses an understanding of one’s self and one’s relationship to the world. An educated person must grapple with a question that has interested human beings for centuries: the relationship between self and society. To understand one’s self, one must understand and acknowledge the impact of society on the development of identity and the formation of beliefs. The needs of the individual sometimes conflict with the needs of society. Cultures differ in the relative value they give to the individual and to the group. Using issues that impact on students’ lives, Self and Society courses explore questions of these sorts. They encourage students to inquire into multiple dimensions of self including the social, physical, emotional, and cognitive and to investigate the interactions between individuals and the spatial, temporal, political, economic, and technological aspects of the social environment.

Self and Society courses emphasize the skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening, critical thinking, conducting research, and collaborating with others.