The Unavoidable Curriculum

I’m looking forward to joining some colleagues this weekend at a summer institute organized by the Association of American Colleges & Universities ( We’re planning to get some good work done to organize professional development for high impact teaching practices for the next four years.

Our goal is to write a professional development plan that is part of a five-year project supported by a Title V grant to expand the BMCC Learning Academy and to improve student outcomes. The Learning Academy will serve more students and expand from a first-year cohort program to serve students in years two and three.

The Learning Academy is built on High Impact Practices, primarily a First Year Seminar and Learning Communities. We hope to create a student experience in which high impact practices are the “unavoidable curriculum,” as Carol Geary Schneider and Debra Humphreys of the AAC&U call it in Ensuring Quality and Taking High-Impact Practices to Scale.

I’ve been trying to visualize what this might mean for students. So far the closest image I can think of is the “balanced meal plate” developed by the US Department of Agriculture. My version of it looks like this at the moment:

In the Learning Academy, students begin their first semester in a success seminar (the placemat) that is linked to a discipline course. The pie chart illustrates the variety of high impact practices students have to choose from in their time at BMCC. In their first semester they also have access to learning communities and start building their electronic portfolios. All BMCC students need a writing intensive course to graduate, so the purple circle on the top right isn’t a choice. The pie chart suggests food again, but it also looks like the game piece in Trivial Pursuit. So I hope we can present attractive options to students and engage them to collect all the pieces, so we don’t come across as trying to get them to “eat their veggies” in an educational sense.

In a meeting to prepare for the institute, we discussed some guiding principles for the plan, including that our work should benefit all BMCC students and faculty, although its main audience is faculty who teach in the Learning Academy. In addition, we will keep in mind some principles voiced by Provost Karrin Wilks at our Winter Faculty Convocation in January 2017, among them:

  • Students can learn anything under the right conditions
  • Ability, motivation, and intellect are not fixed
  • It is possible to significantly improve learning outcomes
  • Faculty are the mechanism for scaling success

Even before we write the plan, we know the Learning Academy has some specific needs that may also benefit the rest of the college. We’d like to encourage more faculty to get involved, and we’d like to expand and strengthen the learning communities we offer to students. We are also expanding our undergraduate research programming and trying improve student outcomes in Gateway courses. So the plan we develop needs to support our other ongoing efforts.

So we’re off on the Amtrak to Boston!

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