The CORE is ACU’s general studies curriculum re-imagined. The CORE’s unique courses build upon each other throughout a student’s four years at ACU, providing a clear picture of how God–the Creator of beauty, truth, justice and goodness–has used human beings to participate in expressing these ideas throughout history in art, music, literature, math, and science. Because the CORE empowers students to approach life holistically with a biblical worldview, the result is an educated person prepared for influence in all areas of life, not simply their chosen field.
Matching Curriculum to Mission and Vision
The new course, LIA 101: Covenant, Community, and Commitments, specifically teaches the ACU Core Commitments, covenant and community agreements, offers a brief history of the University and the ACU Liberal Arts Philosophy.
Five Guiding CORE Principles:
The hallmark of the ACU CORE: Christian Liberal Arts is collaboration. We believe it’s important to incorporate many voices as we work as a community on our new CORE. The CORE is the product of the entire ACU community – academics, student life, athletics, spiritual life, the administration, and the entire ACU staff. Every member of the community had a significant role to play in its development. Similarly, as the new curriculum is developed and implemented, the community is involved in this process as well. Individual courses in the CORE are created, taught, and refined using a collaborative approach – involving faculty members from many academic disciplines and with representatives from throughout the ACU community. For example, introductory LIA courses are designed and taught by professors with backgrounds ranging from Bible and theology, to business, to political science. Representatives from the ACU athletic community are often asked for input in class development and scheduling. And not all classroom instructors are professors. These classes are also taught by the best communicators from the University’s student and spiritual life. The key concept of CORE collaboration is “many voices” reflecting the diversity and expertise of the larger ACU community.
2. Collaboration to Classroom Excellence
The CORE curriculum is being created through a collaborative process that reflects CORE values and objectives, and employs interdisciplinary and varied pedagogical voices from across the ACU community. The hope is to tap into the larger ACU academic community to develop a consistent, student-engaged, high quality curriculum for each course. Courses are not the product of one instructor new each semester, but a consistent, coherent, highly engaging curriculum that reflects CORE learning objectives, consistent content that provides continuity over time, and a similar student experience no matter which section of a given course they happen to enroll in. Courses are reviewed as they are taught, and refined after each semester is over, continually making sure the courses are the best the University offers.
Every CORE course is designed for student engagement. Course professors meet regularly to collaboratively design and refine engaging in-class activities. These employ the best student-engagement pedagogical techniques and are refined after classroom use. In other words, professors work together to make sure students actively interact with course material, individually, in smaller groups of classmates, and with their professors. They ask the big questions, wrestle with paradoxes, and develop intellectual curiosity about their readings and their world.
4. Academic Discipline Cohorts
Students are assigned to their freshman CORE courses LIA 101 and LIA 102 according to their declared academic major. In these discipline-specific cohorts, students in the same major get to know one another by being in classes together from the start, often before taking major classes. These cohorts are designed to enrich and build student relationships within their disciplines from the beginning of their academic career at ACU. These cohort groups will take courses in their given majors throughout their four years at ACU, and will be brought together again by cohort in their LIA 490: Capstone experience, giving them the opportunity to begin and end their academic careers with peers who share their scholarly and career interests.
5. Living-Learning Community
Living-learning communities stand apart in the discussion of best-practices in higher education. ACU is committed to establishing and growing this living-learning model at the University. Living-learning communities tend to: increase connection between peers, foster intellectual risk-taking in classroom discussions, increase student interaction, including out-of-class experiences, encourage student ownership of their learning through collaboration, and expose students to an interdisciplinary view of themes, which in turn fosters deeper learning.
Learning communities stand apart in the discussion of best-practices. As discussed earlier, the learning community is often considered a liberal arts curriculum model, not just a best-practice. Conceived as a model, then, it stands out as being the best researched. Here it is discussed in the context of best-practices.
Learning communities are composed of a group of courses that a discrete group of students complete together. The courses are thematic, and ideally the curriculum is structured to consider the theme across various disciplines (Brownell & Swaner, 2010). The student SM GPs may be assembled according to year in college, major, residence, or any other practical strategy that fits the institution’s goals, vision, and mission. The recommended size is no more than 50 students per learning community. According to Brownell and Swaner (p.13), learning communities are structured with the following goals:
- Increased connection between peers.
- Intellectual risk-taking in classroom discussions.
- Increased student interaction, including out-of-class experiences.
- Increased student ownership of their learning through collaboration.
- Interdisciplinary view of themes, which fosters deeper learning.
Learning communities should be structured using the following highest-impact methods (Brownell & Swaner, 2010):
- Be intentional in linking courses; the courses should be constructed concurrently.
- Tie fist-year seminar to learning community courses.
- Use instructional teams.
- Invest in faculty development to increase interdisciplinary focus. This includes provision of syllabi, pedagogical practice recommendations, and grading rubrics.
Outcomes. Students participating in learning communities, when compared to those not participating, demonstrate higher grades, retention, academic engagement, civic engagement, writing and reading skills, and critical thinking; greater interaction with faculty and peers, and a perception of the campus as more supportive (Brownell & Swaner, 2010).
(Quoted from pp. 75-76 of ACU’s Liberal Arts Task Force: New Curriculum Proposal)