Duke council talks Kunshan course approval, online education

Nov. 14, 2013 @ 09:44 PM

The Duke Arts & Sciences Council got a first-hand look Thursday at 18 undergraduate courses planned for Duke Kunshan University, the new campus in China that will open its doors to students in fall 2014.

During the council meeting held in the Social Sciences building on campus, Tom Robisheaux, chair of the council as well as chair of the DKU Joint Committee, shared the list of humanities classes, ranging from “Greek Civilization” to “Chinese Immigration/Migration,” global health courses focused on pollution and the environment, physical and natural sciences courses such as “Bioenergy” and “Water Resources/Water Pollution, and social sciences classes tackling ethics and leadership.

The course proposals, which are planned to be taught in fall of 2014 and/or spring 2015, are making their way through the approval process, in which the proposal is sent to the associated department, the China Faculty Council at Duke, the Liberal Arts in China Committee at Duke, a joint Arts & Sciences committee, and then on to the undergraduate education department head.

Questions asked about the courses have included what student English proficiency levels will be required and if there will be student proficiency differences across certain academic subjects, such as math or science skills, between Duke and Chinese students.

Denise Comer, director of first-year writing within Duke’s Thompson Writing Program, said she and other members of the writing program traveled to China in May to visit with students and faculty at Chinese universities. Out of that trip, they’ve created “U.S. Academic Writing for EFL Students” and “Writing Across Cultures,” an advanced writing seminar that will examine the language associated with photographs.

The Thompson Writing Program considers writing a central endeavor, Comer said, in which teaching critical thinking and query research will fit into DKU’s global semester.

Robisheaux said he invited faculty and staff members associated with new DKU programs to the meeting so that Duke faculty can “associate DKU with people” and no longer view the international partnership as a “far-away enterprise.”

“We are here to support them, just as we are here to support all of you,” he said to the faculty in the auditorium.

The next goal for the international university will be for Duke and Chinese officials to develop a cohesive curriculum in the next five years, said Laurie Patton, dean of the Duke Trinity College of Arts & Sciences and co-chair of the Liberal Arts in China Committee.

“That is incredibly important for me as a leader here to create a different kind of conversation that is much more long-term and fully backed up by data on the ground,” Patton said.

They also are planning to create subcommittees focused on liberal learning in China, pedagogy assessment and the student experience, and academic freedom.

In other news, the Arts & Sciences Council will gather online education proposals from faculty members by December and present those recommendations in the spring. The college will begin offering mini-grants soon to faculty looking to teach a class with a partner institution and use online tools to do it.

A resolution had passed, with one dissenting vote, during the council’s meeting last spring that strengthened the commitment of Duke arts and sciences faculty to explore and adopt different online platforms.

Faculty are in the middle of evaluating the best practices for online courses and setting standards for the approval of such courses. Right now, there is no standard evaluation, Robisheaux said.

“We’re in a period of immense creativity for course formats,” he said.