As part of Columbia’s effort to revamp the Core science course, an open forum was held last night allowing for student input. FroSci Fault-Finder Eric Cohn reports.
Last night, to a surprisingly sparse crowd, the Committee for Science in the Core held an open forum as part of its effort to formulate a new Core science course. The committee was formed last September upon the recommendation of the Educational Planning and Policy Committee after a comprehensive review of FroSci in 2012. The committee has been exploring alternatives to FroSci, which were discussed at the forum—albeit somewhat nebulously.
Two co-chairs of the Committee—Earth and Environmental Science Professor Peter deMenocal and Philosophy Professor Philip Kitcher—led the forum alongside two student members, Violet Nieves, CC ’15 and Ari Schuman, CC ’15. At the beginning of the event, all four expressed their commitment to hearing student input to improve their ideas for a seminar-based course that would likely take one of two forms: the class would either be a chronological survey of the history of the universe, or it would focus on science’s “greatest hits” since the advent of the scientific method.
The “history of the world” version—tentatively known as “Humans in the World”—would consist of weekly topics broken down into very specific phenomena for scientific study to emphasize a particular way of scientific thinking. Thus, whereas this form of the seminar would bring in the scientific skills along the way with the content, the “greatest hits” version—tentatively called “Scientific Inquiry”—would start with the skills as a foundation and then introduce the content. Still, Nieves emphasized that the finalized version of the course could be an intermixture of these two proposals.
Nieves began—after a fervid assurance that the “Columbia bureaucracy” would not be staging a “coup” against students on the Core science front—by emphasizing that the committee wants to be in a “quite open” dialogue with students to create “not exactly transparency, but translucence.” A student later rejected this claim, saying that there was very little transparency until now. The committee did not revisit this retort, although the holding of a forum seems to be at least a step in the right direction.
Following Nieves, Kitcher—in his dapper purple shirt and beige suit—opened his introductory speech with an apology, anticipating the process to be rather slow. The audience swooned over his accent and gladly accepted his apology, although I was somewhat disappointed that I may not see the fruits of the committee’s efforts in my tenure.
Midway through the forum, a student proposed that the committee write a list on the Schermerhorn chalkboard of the key components of a new Core science course. By the end of the forum, the goals (though relatively nonspecific) included:
- Getting students to think scientifically
- Curing the fear of science
- Creating a sense of wonder around the science discussed
- Teaching scientific literacy
- Giving students the opportunity to experience cutting-edge research