Curriculum for 21st Century Discussed


At the Oct. 27 university forum, Northern faculty and staff had an opportunity to learn more about the “Curriculum for the 21st Century” that President Les Wong mentioned in his convocation and investiture speeches. The idea is to explore ways that NMU might do more to enhance the NMU academic experience so that students leave the university better prepared to thrive in a global society.


“It’s an opportune time, given the university’s position of strength, to look at what we’re doing, as well as why and how we’re doing it to determine what our identity ought to be,” Wong said at the forum. “We are beginning a year of deliberate discussions involving faculty, staff, students and the community, with the caveat that no decisions are made in this first year. I didn’t want people to be apprehensive about the discussion. We need to proceed carefully to make sure it’s the right thing to do.”


Terry Seethoff (College of Arts and Sciences) said economic and social issues compel Northern to take a closer look at international education. NMU provides some study-abroad opportunities, but he said the goal is to expand and enhance those connections to the rest of the world so they become hallmarks of the university and an integral part of the curriculum. He said foreign language is a critical part of the equation.


“The way it’s structured now, these international opportunities are not accessible to many students,” Seethoff added. “Students who go abroad – for the most part – fit it in around other things. Maybe studying abroad should be a step toward graduation and not just a wonderful experience. How will the Passport Program connect students with global issues? We don’t have those answers yet. That’s what the task force is going to discuss.”


The Internationalization Task Force (ITF) is composed of 29 volunteer faculty, staff and student members. It is chaired by Louise Bourgault (CAPS) and has met once to begin discussing the Passport Program, which is a working title, and how it might help NMU students become world citizens capable of working in a global economy and living in a more diverse society.


The purposes of the ITF are to: document the current state of international study at NMU; develop new curriculum and staffing models to better facilitate a commitment to internationalization; develop business plans for the staffing and curriculum models; and develop implementation strategies.

Concerns expressed at the forum included increasing the amount of time students spend at NMU to incorporate globalization on top of traditional curriculum requirements, and the expenses associated with international study.


"Cost and financial aid are critical issues that need to be addressed from the beginning," said Jim Schiffer (English). “We don’t want to increase opportunities for a small percentage of students. Having 100 more go overseas isn’t enough to internationalize the academic experience. I’m not saying that cost should stop Northern from thinking about it entirely, but there is a big dollar sign associated with this and it needs to be addressed in the discussions.”


A second committee, the Value-Added Task Force (VATF), is focused on expanding and promoting the array of activities that encourage personal development in addition to academic growth. These include leadership programs, academic service learning, student organization membership, volunteering, and civic engagement.


The VATF, chaired by Kathleen Thompson (Nursing), will research and make recommendations for a value-added initiative with the working title "Superior Edge Program." It will determine which activities and experiences to include in the initiative, how to review and incorporate new experiences, how much support will be required to administer the program, and a reasonable timeline for implementation. It will also recommend the following: a record-keeping system to accommodate a large number of student participants; a means of assessing the quality of student experiences; methods for promoting student participation; and ways that the initiative can be marketed to prospective students.


Both committees welcome new members and will post their meeting minutes on the Academic Affairs Web site. They are scheduled to submit final reports by May 1. For more detailed information on the task forces, go to ITF and VATF.



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Updated: November 8, 2004