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Faculty College seeks to drive classroom innovation

Six teams of Stanford professors will focus on creating innovative, team-taught curricula as part of the 2012 Faculty College, unveiled by Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Harry Elam at the Faculty Senate’s June 9 meeting.

By providing the space, time and resources for multidisciplinary education, Elam said he hopes to revolutionize the concept of teaching itself at Stanford in a response to globalization.

“Twenty-first century education means responding to the fact that students have changed and we need new methodologies for reaching them; that the world has changed and we need new methodologies for connecting our students to it,” he wrote in an email to The Daily. “Stanford needs to keep evolving, to teach in ways that our students, and the global community, relate to.”

The six main initiatives include the Ethics of War Project; the Division of Literatures, Cultures and Languages Project; the Electrical and Environmental Engineering Track Project; the Networks Project; the Bioengineering Undergraduate Design Project and the Arts Structured Liberal Education Project.

Elam stressed collaboration as integral to each initiative.

“What we’re doing here is providing a different and potentially unique  platform for such projects,” he said. “We’re allowing faculty from across disciplines to work collaboratively, to bounce ideas off of each other and put the emphasis on undergraduate education.”

“As we developed the idea of Faculty College, certain projects surfaced as ones that would be ideal for the first Faculty College class,” he wrote. He added that the projects chosen are reflections of the individuals in the Faculty College class, “stretching across schools from Law to Humanities and Sciences.”

French and Italian associate professor Dan Edelstein will work with biology Deborah Gordon M.S. ’77 and computer science professor Eric Roberts on the “Networks Project,” entitled “Social Animals, Social Revolutions and Social Networks.”

“Rather than simply trying to get students to take more humanities classes, we tried to come up with classes that already address some of the more scientific issues that students are interested in [and to] show how there is an important humanistic dimension to those classes or topics,” Edelstein said.

“One of the ideas we came up with was ‘social network,’ which at the beginning we were going to call ‘From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg’…the idea being that there’s a long history to judicial network and that it didn’t just all start with Facebook,” he added.

Each team leads an initiative and is to meet collectively with its affiliates a minimum of two or three times per quarter.

Col. Joseph Felter Ph.D. ‘05, senior research scholar at the Center for International Security and Cooperation, will work on the Ethics of War project. His teammates include political science professor Scott Sagan, philosophy professor Debra Satz, senior Law School lecturer Allen Weiner J.D. ‘89 and School of Medicine professor Paul Wise.

Felter suggested there is a need for a broad grasp of topics in the undergraduate community.

“So many of this century’s greatest challenges will require interdisciplinary approaches to understand and address,” he said. “Today’s students will be better prepared to contribute to these efforts if they are educated in environments that expose them to multiple disciplines — regardless of their chosen course of study — and encouraged to engage in collaborative problem-solving approaches and harnessing emerging technologies effectively.”

Elam also touched on the program’s place within broader University ventures.

“We have the changes that are currently being considered by SUES, the Study of

Undergraduate Education at Stanford,” Elam wrote. “Certainly, one of the major things that will come out of that study is the need for integration of what we consider general education and major requirements — each needs to inform the other.”

Despite the variety of projects, Elam stressed that each one will be based on a common tenet: teamwork.

“The goals of Faculty College are simple: to provide faculty with the space to develop an idea for innovative curricula, change or exciting new courses,” he said.