Last Friday, the Optimist ran an editorial about the Fall 2010 Cornerstone class, declaring that it “failed colossally.” Clearly it did notÂ “succeed spectacularly” – but neither was it the abysmal failure so described. Rather, it was a bold first step for this University, using a method and scale of teaching that was new to ACU: Spotlight sessions in Cullen Auditorium followed by small weekly sections guided by individual professors.
Cornerstone helped frame the question “How do I know?” While some of the 13 Spotlight presentations focused on alienation, a theme that recognizes the unique position incoming students have as they find their way in an already-established campus community, other themes engaged decision making, vocation, discovering Truth, and living mission-centered lives. These ideas – more practical than they are conceptual – move beyond the focus of an individual major and are central to being well-educated, purposeful and thoughtful people: the kind of person we expect an ACU graduate to be.
Like most first steps, there were plenty of shaky and uncertain moments. The organization of the class needed to be clearer and more intentional about how each part contributed to the whole. Along with changes being made to the order and topics of the Spotlight sessions next year, Cornerstone will have a faculty “host” helping to provide context and connection between the different topics.
We missed an opportunity to intentionally connect with students on the important matters of university life, such as designing degree plans, using the Depot, navigating registration and balancing social and academic responsibilities. Planning time to address these important topics next year will help improve the course.
Thirty years ago, ACU revised its core but did not stray from the model adopted by most other American universities: a cafeteria-style plan that included a sampling of courses from the arts, sciences,communication, physical education, social sciences, English, math, and, in our case, Bible.
What Cornerstone and the other Core classes offer is a way to move beyond teaching ideas separately and into a method that emphasizes how ideas create influence, connection and meaning for our increasingly fragmented world.
Five years ago, when we first began the mobile learning initiative, many thought we were just giving out “toys.” Next week, the campus will host the co-founder of Apple and the director of technology for the US Department of Education (among many others) in a conversation about how colleges can continue to implement technological innovations in their classrooms.
The Core has the same kind of transformational potential. Rethinking general education is a process that involves large-scale vision and a willingness to risk changing a model that has been in place for many years. That ACU has been in a decade-long conversation about how to do this and that we are implementing something that is both innovative and creative speaks to the University’s commitment to lead with a strong academic program. There is much that can be done to make the courses better, and we have a faculty who are able and ready to do so; that’s a blessing for all students, now and in the future.
Dr. Kristina Campos is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication and the Cornerstone Course Coordinator. Dr. Gregory Straughn is an Associate Professor of Music and Assistant ProvostÂ for General Education.