IP courses provoke student and faculty dissatisfaction

Caroline Fassett, News Editor

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Speculation surrounding the cancellation of the Integrated Perspectives (IP) courses circulated throughout the University community and student body a few weeks ago. These rumors have since been discredited by Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences George Shields, who said that the gossip is “absolutely not true.” Yet, the proliferation of these rumors on campus and the diversity of opinions regarding the necessity of IP courses in the curriculum raises questions about the effectiveness of their implementation.

Crafted with the intention of educating sophomores by integrating learning across disciplines, the IP courses have been in pilot mode for several years and have since been instituted as a College Core Curriculum (CCC) requirement for students in the Class of 2018 and beyond, said Ned Ladd, a professor of physics who also plays a key role in implementing and structuring the IP course program.

Associate Professor of History John Enyeart is currently teaching the IP course “Working in America” alongside Professor of Economics Geoffrey Schneider. Enyeart said that when the integrated perspectives courses were originally imagined as a possible program to institute at the University, they were intended to be similar to foundation seminars in that the class size would be limited to around 15 or 16 students.

Enyeart continued to say that he felt they could be more effectual if the cap were actually placed at that number, rather than at 32 students.

“I don’t know what [students’] particular displeasures with the course are. But in a course of 15 I could ask. In a course of 32, I can [ask] if you come to office hours, but it’s not like we can sit around and have 32 people speak, because not everyone is going to speak,” Enyeart said.

Enyeart also underscored the factor of compatibility between professors, given that the success of the course is dependent on the strength of the teaching relationship that professors share.

“I don’t want to go in and teach a class with someone I don’t know that well. It might not just be that you have a different approach [than the other professor]; you might also have fundamental differences on how to define something, or what that something is,” Enyeart said.

Last semester, Grace Leung ’18 was enrolled in an IP course called “Weird Art, Weird Poetry.”

“It was kind of disorganized and the professors often had tension, pushing back and forth in leading the class discussion,” Leung said.

Ladd said that the process of pairing teachers together for IP courses is “entirely organic”; faculty members team up and allow their mutual interests to guide the content of the respective courses they teach.

Ladd stated that changes will probably be enforced based on ongoing evaluation and the approval of the Arts & Sciences Faculty. 

“It will take some time for us to learn how to do this uniformly well,” he said. 

Professor of English Michael Drexler, who will teach an IP class in the near future, dislikes the courses “because they delay the process of choosing a major wisely,” and they are “yet one more requirement to be checked off.”

Drexler agrees with Enyeart that the IP courses are huge by enrollment standards, which results in more lecturing and less class engagement. He thinks students would more greatly benefit from “taking separate courses with each professor.” 

“In the end, the IP course puts students in a miserable situation where they are supposed to synthesize two different disciplinary approaches, neither of which may they have any experience in whatsoever,” Drexler said.

Drexler went so far as labelling the University “requirement mad.”

“It’s more directed, general education programming that our students don’t want or need. It looks good on the University website, but as you’re learning from your own and others’ experiences, it doesn’t live up in practice,” Drexler said.

Enyeart and Schneider previously taught a similar version of their IP course in the form of a seminar. That seminar featured a small class size of upper-level students. Enyeart said, compared to that class, he is “not seeing the kind of engagement” he expected to see in restructuring the class as an IP course.

“The students don’t seem happy; I’ve heard that. And I don’t think we should ignore this. I think we should talk about it. I don’t think it’s time to scrap [the integrated perspectives courses] yet; we’ve only had them at the University for one semester. There’s got to be a way to figure out if they’re worth having,” Enyeart said.

Ladd said that while faculty is “generally enjoying teaching these courses,” student feedback has been “all over the map.”

“I enjoy the subject [of my IP course] but I feel like the two-professor system is ineffective,” Madison Simon ’18 said.

“I would just say that my IP class, ‘Math and Politics,’ was unbelievably hard. It was frustrating to hear other people in IP courses … facing challenges that were similar to those presented by foundation seminars. Whereas I had to do problem sets, mathematical proofs, and had a mini test every two weeks,” Allison Mascioli ’18 said.

“I was lucky that my IP course teachers were very cohesive, but I’ve heard of a lot of complaints about courses in which the teachers are not cohesive at all, and in which the large class size detracts from the learning experience,” Katie Sidlowski ’18 said.

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