Effective Majors Structure


This week, I would like to share an article, which addresses an inquiry from a colleague on the structure of a new major. The 2006 paper, "Student Success: What Research Suggests for Policy and Practice" by Hearn is a bit dated, but still has many key points. The author shares important factors for student success include:

  • "high expectations (as manifested in curriculum, climate, and teaching practices);

  • coherence in the curriculum (i.e., in required courses and sequencing of courses);

  • integration of knowledge, skills and disposition outcomes;

  • opportunities for active learning, assessment and frequent feedback;

  • respect for diversity (race/ethnicity/cultures, talents and abilities, ways of knowing and learning);

  • frequent contact with faculty; and

  • development of connections between class work and learning opportunities outside the class."

More specific to the structure of majors, another paper by Ishiyoma and Hartloub (2003) entitled, "Sequential or Flexible? The Impact of Differently Structured Political Science Majors" compares "one university's major structured around general principles, requiring students to complete SEQUENCED core classes with few electives, beginning with introductory classes. The other major is more FLEXIBLE. After a few introductory courses, students are allowed to take a wide variety of courses on a number of different substantive topics. Courses are not necessarily taken in sequence. Given these differences in curricular model, we would expect differences in student outcomes." The findings indicate that more of the students taking the highly structured, concept-centered major developed abstract reasoning skills than did students enrolled in the flexible structure.

Hearn, J. (2006). Student Success: What Research Suggests for Policy and Practice. National Postsecondary Education Cooperative. Retrieved at https://nces.ed.gov/npec/pdf/synth_Hearn.pdf

Ishiyama, J., & Hartlaub, S. (2003). Sequential or Flexible? The Impact of Differently Structured Political Science Majors on the Development of Student Reasoning. PS: Political Science and Politics, 36(1), 83-86. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3649351

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