Curriculum Design Lab

By the time curriculum ideas become reality they’ve been so picked over by committees and assistant associate deans that their pedagogical coherence is reduced to something like “at this point nobody objects strongly to what’s left.” A few years back I had in mind to teach a course or workshop that would encourage individuals or small groups to engage in a sprint or hackathon approach to the first draft of a curriculum plan. Here’s an effort I put together, partly as an example of that genre, but also as a vision for a program I thought Mills College, where I taught at the time, could absolutely hit home runs with given their staffing, location, reputation, etc. It was basically a port to the small liberal arts college context of the program I helped get off the ground at USC in 2014, the Iovine Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation.

Technology, Business, and Design

“Innovation” is the development of creative and sustainable solutions to important problems. The TBD program offers students rigorous training as innovators in the context of a liberal arts education. It hybridizes ^!\\$’ strengths in the arts, business, and technology to produce a new kind of academic program and a new genre of academic programs.

This program is not designed only for students who are currently at or likely to enroll at our college although many of them might find it of interest. Our goal is to attract to our college students who would never have given us a second look. We expect some of these would gain admission to our program and enroll, but others would enroll at the college for other programs. Further, we expect that some students will “transfer” into other majors after the first two years. The program we want to build will put us on the recruitment map in new ways by being a radically forward looking program that is not available anywhere else. It will be a program that builds on legacy strengths of the institution, but goes quantitatively and qualitatively beyond just breathing new life into old programs.

The purpose of this degree is not to get art students to learn more technology or for technology students to minor in business or for business students to learn to talk to coders and designers. We are not after interesting double majors or curious interdisciplinary majors. All that can already be done. We are going to invent something that can’t be done now, but needs to be: a new kind of degree that is unabashedly practical and profound, that yields graduates who can be described as creative critical thinkers, visionary pragmatists, technologists with a social conscience, radicals whose skillsets make them truly dangerous to the status quo.

Unlike similar programs at larger institutions in schools of engineering or design, we envision a program in which we are teaching “innovation as a liberal art” – believing that the core learning goals of the liberal arts are highly resonant with the content of “innovation education.”

What. One way to define “Innovation” is as the development of creative and sustainable solutions to important problems. The Technology, Business, and Design, or TBD, program offers students rigorous training as innovators in the context of a liberal arts education. It hybridizes ^!\\$’ strengths in the arts, business, and technology to produce a new kind of academic program and a new genre of majors.

WHO. The TBD program is designed not for students who are already at our college. Our goal is to attract the attention of students who would never have given us a second look. We expect to recruit some of them to this program, but we expect others will enroll at the college in other programs. Further, we expect that some students will “transfer” into other majors after the first two years. The program we want to build will put us on the recruitment map in new ways by being a radically forward looking program that is not available anywhere else. It will be a program that builds on legacy strengths of the institution, but goes quantitatively and qualitatively beyond just breathing new life into old programs.

Why. The purpose of the TBD degree is not to get art students to learn some technology or for science students to minor in business or for business students to learn to talk to coders and designers. We are not after interesting double majors or curious interdisciplinary majors. All that can already be done. We are going to invent something that can’t be done now, but that the world needs: a new kind of degree that is unabashedly both practical and profound, that yields graduates who can be described as creative critical thinkers, visionary pragmatists, technologists with a social conscience, radicals whose skill sets make them a danger to the status quo.

How. Unlike similar programs at larger institutions in schools of engineering or design, we envision a program in which we are teaching “innovation as a liberal art” – believing that the core learning goals of the liberal arts are highly resonant with the content of what might be called “innovation education.”

A Two Level Curriculum

TBD is a cohort-based degree program. The integrated trans-disciplinary curriculum has the graduated profile of sequential majors but with combinatoric flexibility that will yield several tracks in the major.

The curriculum has two levels. The first two years are completely highly structured and culminate in a sophomore project. Those who successfully complete this “pre-diploma” will continue on to an upper division program that allows for more in depth studies of the three component areas of the program: arts and design; business, organizations, and social science; technology and computer science with an intense capstone experience solving real world problems.

The Pre-Diploma

The curriculum begins with three intense introductory courses. The pre-diploma program is built around the “ABC phase” in which students take an introductory course in each area (A=art/design, B=business/organization, C=computing/technology) during the first two semesters.

  • Culture, Commerce, and Innovation
  • Design, Visualization, and Prototyping
  • Physical science and Coding I

Regardless of what strengths a student had coming into the program, these intense introductory courses lay a disciplinary foundation for subsequent work.

The second phase involves three bridging courses. Starting in spring of the first year, single discipline courses are followed by courses which explicitly tie two of areas together: technology and design; design and business; business and technology. These courses explicitly build on what was learned in the respective introductory courses.

  • Design and Social Innovation
  • Technology and Design
  • Organization and Technology

The third part of the pre-diploma is a seminar in which the three areas converge and a sophomore project in which students work on teams to take an idea from initial problem identification through prototype iteration and testing. The pre-diploma program is designed so that students can either continue onto the upper division curriculum or opt out and pursue other majors.

The Upper Division Curriculum

The upper division of the program starts with an internship that is bookended by entry and exit seminars. The entry seminars will consist of skills and knowledge specific to the internships, professional skills, and priming exercises to maximize the pedagogical impact of internship. The internship itself will start at mid-semester in the fall and continue to mid-semester in the spring. The exit seminar will consolidate lessons and skills learned in the internship and make connections with student’s proposed final year project.

Innovative Infrastructure: Shattering the Semester

Courses in the curriculum will be worth 1, 2, 3, or 4 credits with credit value determined by the number of weeks the course or workshop meets. All classes will meet for the same amount of time each week. This will allow us to stagger course offerings; for example, during the first semester students will have two 3 credit and one 4 credit course but the one 3 credit courses will end 3.5 weeks before the end of the semester and the other will start 3.5 weeks into the semester allowing students a little breathing room at the ends of the semester. The program also consists of digital skills workshops which last 7 weeks (2 credits) and a series of short 3.5 week workshops for 1 credit.

Course Flights

The upper division consists of three “flights,” one in each focal area. A course flight is a sequence of two or more courses in which students experience cumulative skill and knowledge building and progressively higher levels of mastery. Students choose one “long flight” consisting of the introductory course plus three advanced courses, a medium flight with two advanced courses, and short one with a single advanced course.

A student could have a business focus and do the long flight in organization/business courses. A student with a technology focus might make technology her long flight, design her medium length flight, and business her short flight.

A third year course called problems and solutions builds on skills and knowledge. This leads to a fourth year capstone and studio/garage/workshop/fieldwork project to which about half the year’s time will be devoted. Students will be expected to tackle a meaningful problem, assembling a team and seeing it through from start to finish.

Every semester there will be a series of four guest speakers – innovators in all fields drawn from the greater Bay Area – who will meet with students in the program in sessions we call “Innovators Face to Face.” Some of these will be structured as presentations and conversations and some will be structured as critique visits for which students will prepare presentations and visitors will offer commentary, critique, and advice.

DigiTool Courses

Over the course of their first four semesters, students in the program will take a series of toolbox courses we are calling “digiTools.” Many of these will be training in software applications used throughout the curriculum.

The popUp Curriculum

Also every semester will feature a series of “popUp” workshops on topics that complement the other curricular offerings and allow instructors to do more in those classes because common topics are covered outside of their classroom time. The first set of popUps will be used to orient students to the program and to introduce tools that are used throughout the program.

Staffing

Revenue Sharing

As a first approximation, assume 25 students in initial cohort with net tuition of 15k of which 33% is allocated to institutional overhead. The remainder to be apportioned proportional to credit hours delivered. One sample scheme shown below draws on faculty FTE in several existing programs/departments.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s