Idea Lab Offers Great Courses and Commitment to the Liberal Arts

Idea Lab Offers Great Courses and Commitment to the Liberal Arts

In order to create a new classroom experience, Skidmore received a grant for an Ideas Lab by the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation.  With this $100,000 planning grant, Skidmore has put together a working group to invent and implement new course formats. While there are plans to implement ideas like 4 year courses, more pop-up courses and varying condensed courses, the Fall 2017 semester will include 2, year long courses, a sandwich courses that will meet before and after study abroad and a student directed multiple semester course.  The Editorial Board fully supports introduction of these new course formats to college offerings. 

These courses represent a commitment to the liberal arts and show Skidmore’s willingness to provide atypical opportunities.  Professor of Art Sarah Sweeney, co-chair of the Idea Lab Committee, commented that the grant offers “small, niche opportunities” to students interested in pursing topics with different scope and depth, such as longer-term study projects.  She also insisted that the quick to form committee has been well received by the registrar and by administrators. 

Longer course formats offer particular advantage to students curious to pursue research-oriented classes.  One such offering for the Fall is AM351D,  Historic Preservation Theory and Practice, a two-semester course offered by Professor Amber Wiley of American Studies, which will community partnerships and case studies that would not typically be possible in a 14-week course. 

In the future, we hope sandwich courses will compliment internships, as well.  By increasing flexibility to incorporate fieldwork into more traditional course study and theory, Skidmore can intensify institutional relationships with the community.  This is especially promising in education and social work.  

Though a 4-year course, which would meet every semester of a student’s Skidmore career, was suggested, this could work best as a 4-year course that only meets 1 semester a year. Reducing credit hour commitments would allow students to study abroad take full advantage of their liberal arts education while still achieving the desired longitudinal vantage point. 

Beyond changes in meeting times and lengths, we encourage faculty to consider changing class meeting places and other traditions.  Any class  could implement atypical grading practices, or consider varying their meeting place. 

New course ideas, such as a senior year follow-up on the FYE, could also compliment the Senior Coda requirement being voted on next week as part of a new General Education Proposal.  Seniors could be offered condensed courses that provide practical skills in their department for post-college careers.  This is already being done in Art History.  Another approach is a sandwich course that meets before and after a fall semester senior thesis.

Continuing to change the structure of courses promises that students can pursue their passions in different ways and connect with other students doing work that has not previously entered classrooms.  Offsetting independent study with newly formed interdisciplinary group collaboration classes will offer a more comprehensive liberal arts experience.  The Idea Lab is a commendable initiative that is already reverberating into departments across campus.



Fall Idea Lab Courses Include:

AM351D – Historic Preservation Theory and Practice  (2 semester course) - A. Wiley 

BI 112 – Straw into Gold: Science in the Fiber Arts (Interdisciplinary course) - E. Larsen/S. Lee 

MA276A – Problem Solving for a ComplexWorld  (2 semester course) - L. Spardy/C. Szabo 

WLL 263A – There and Back Again: Intercultural Perspectives Through Study Abroad (2 semester “sandwich” course with study abroad experience in between) - C. Evans 

PS 261 – Educating Parents in the Digital Age (student directed, multiple semester course) - E. Wojcik 



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