SOMETHING'S MISSING IN THE CURRICULUM: SOME IDEAS FOR TRANSFORMING IT

[Based on an interview with Sara Coulter, Co-Director of the National Center for Curriculum Transformation Resources on Women, Towson State University, Baltimore, Maryland.]

Let's say that you've drastically changed the way you teach your sophomore-level Sociology course, but realize the rest of your department is plodding along as if nothing much has changed since 1950. Some of your fellow faculty members scarcely realize that women's status in the developing world has much to do with the standard of living we take for granted in the U.S.

It's clearly time for much wider and deeper changes in how your department views women's place in the courses they offer, but how to make such transformation happen? According to Sara Coulter, Co-Director of the National Center for Curriculum Transformation Resources on Women (NCCTRW), it's important to realize that you're likely not alone (and need the energy and ideas of others to promote your cause) and that there are some great resources out there to help you along.

The National Center for Curriculum Transformation Resources recently produced a set of publications designed to walk faculty through the steps of making curriculum change happen on their campuses. A substantial Directory of Curriculum Projects is a key resource describing some 237 projects that have already been carried out, with details such as project director (with phone and email addresses, too), the number of participants, disciplines included, funding sources, and outcome.

"People just beginning to initiate curriculum transformation often don't know about the work that's already been done," says Coulter. She sees that history as being central to the success of new projects. "We're trying to create a way to bring people together to work collaboratively," she says. "Our role is to centralize information and foster communication on curriculum transformation on women."

Even when faculty realize there need to be some drastic changes, Coulter says, "what confronts them is a large quantity of new scholarship on women to evalute and complex issues to analyze. It's a major intellectual task." That's why curriculum transformation is usually done through funded projects. For instance, in an earlier Towson project, seventy-five faculty met in eleven discipline-centered workshops over a period of three years, calling in consultants to facilitate the process and offer expertise in how to proceed. "The longevity of such a project is important in achieving real change," Coulter says. Time is needed for faculty to talk about the existing scholarship, hash out proposed changes with each other, try them out in the classroom, come back and talk together some more. The consultants are important to the process, as outsiders who have dealt with curricular transformation before and have learned what to expect.

Another of the Center's publications, Getting Started, offers a concise, practical guide to the steps of the process, from defining goals and seeking funding to deciding on the type of model (seminar/study group, summer institute, etc.), developing workshop content, handling resistance, evaluating, and institutionalizing the project (so the effort doesn't stop with one group of faculty).

For those who can't wait for an institution-wide project or can't seem to gather enough support, as well as for any group of faculty working on transformation, choosing from a series of fifteen Discipline Analysis Essays (ranging from Art to British Literature to Economics to Political Science) may help in thinking through changes in an indvidual discipline. Another set of booklets includes discussion by scholars convened by the City University of New York (CUNY Panels: Rethinking the Discplines) on the impact of recent scholarship on gender, race, ethnicity, and class in seven disciplines. An Introductory Bibliography reviews sources for answering basic questions about transforming curriculum, re-thinking the disciplines, assessing teaching methods, and learning of others' experiences with such projects, plus some journal/periodical resources.

Finding the funds to carry out a curriculum transformation project is not always easy, but the Center's Funding manual helps people through the grant-seeking process. Some type of special funding is generally needed either to buy faculty release time or offer stipends, so the grant-writing process is part of the plan. "It's more work than most faculty are aware of," says Coulter. Sometimes, she says, administrators may off-handedly assign grant-getting to faculty who have never done such a thing, and faculty members may get frustrated with the time-consuming process, write a poor grant that might have been funded if developed with more expertise, and get discouraged. The Funding book includes not only specific suggestions on how to locate funding sources, but the nitty-gritty of writing proposals and putting together a budget.

The Internet, too, of course, offers a wealth of resources. In fact, Joan Korenman's contribution to the Center's publications, Internet Resources on Women, has become the bestseller of the bunch. In it she offers guidance to those just starting out with electronic communication (why use email? what is a "signature file") and to those wanting to know more (suggested email discussion lists and World Wide Web sites by discipline, how to use ftp, and the like). What's more, Korenman updates her book regularly (probably daily, according to Coulter) on her website (http://www-unix.umbc.edu/~korenman/wmst/updates.html), a good place to check for out-of-date email list addresses, missing or new websites, etc.

The Center's newest project - if funding comes through - will be workshops held via the Web, "a series of sessions," says Coulter, "allowing people to work their way through the central issues of their discipline" in the process of transforming the curriculum. There will likely be a dynamic part of the series on the Web itself, plus a CD-ROM full of resources that interested faculty can research offline. Having consultants - who can contribute a great deal of experience in curricular change - available via the Internet is a much better use of their expertise, Coulter believes, than flying them all over the country to individual campuses. The Center's main purpose is to provide those just beginning the process of radically altering their courses access to the knowledge of those who have been through such a project.

The last piece of the Center's collection of helping books, and one that people are already asking for, is an evaluation manual, due out this summer. "Knowing what kinds of things work and how to evaluate them" are very important parts of the process, Coulter believes. The manual is written from the point of view of someone not experienced in the field and suggests how to spend evaluation money if it is available.

Scholarship on women has already made its way deeply into the curricula of many colleges and universities - the Directory's listing of individual and consortial projects likely includes some five hundred to six hundred total campuses that "have completed projects large enough to be visible," says Coulter. "On one hand that's a lot of commitment; on the other, there are a lot of institutions of higher education" out there. It would also make a tremendous difference, says Coulter, for campuses that have implemented transformation projects to repeat them over and over for "more than the small number of committed faculty who have already been through the process." Change always takes time within an institution, and the Center remains committed to working toward major curriculum transformation, with this new set of tools offering the "how-to" to campuses all over the country.

[Cost of the total set of publications on curriculum transformation published thus far is $232 (indiv.), $273 (inst.) plus $15 shipping. Cost of individual items is: Directory $30 (indiv.), $45 (inst.); Bibliography $7; Getting Started $20 (indiv.), $30 (inst.); Internet Resources $20 (indiv.); $30 (inst.); Funding for Projects $20 (indiv.), $30 (inst.); Disciplinary Analysis Essays $7 each; CUNY Panels $10 each. Checks payable to TSU University Store. Mail orders to: University Store, University Union Bldg., Towson University, 8000 York Rd., Baltimore, MD 21252 or phone 800-847-9922. A catalog describing the resources in more detail is available from: National Center for Curriculum Transformation Resources on Women, Institute for Teaching and Research on Women, Towson University, 8000 York Rd., Baltimore, MD 21252. Phone: 410-830-3944; fax: 410-830-3469; email: ncctrw@towson.edu; website: http://www.towson.edu/ncctrw/]


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