They’re a fact of college life: those random classes that almost everyone you know has taken.
Introduction to Geology, Astronomy 001: A Survey of the Universe, Ideas in Mathematics — the courses many a Penn student plans to take eventually in order to knock off a requirement or two.
As students settle into fall semester with the Registrar’s course listings in their hands and the world seemingly at their fingertips — choosing courses that involve everything from weekly prison visits to analyzing Britney Spears videos — they are once again faced with making sure they fulfill their curriculum requirements.
Many say they appreciate that requirements encourage them to broaden their horizons, while others are frustrated that they must take classes that don’t fit their interests. And many are adept at cutting corners, finding the easy classes to get them through the system.
When the new College of Arts and Sciences curriculum was developed in 2006, five foundational approaches were included: Writing, Foreign Language, Formal Reasoning and Analysis, Quantitative Data Analysis and Cross Cultural Analysis . The Cultural Diversity in the U.S. requirement was added for the Class of 2012 and later.
While students may not fulfill two sector requirements at the same time, they are allowed –– even encouraged — to simultaneously fulfill a sector and foundational requirement, excluding the writing and language ones, according to D. Kent Peterman, Associate Dean and Director of Academic Affairs.
Peterman said the fundamental approaches were “adopted with the understanding that students would fulfill them in courses they are taking for another purpose … to ensure more flexibility.”
The foundational approaches, introduced in the 1990s, are relatively new. The sectors, or “breadth requirements,” have been in the curriculum for a “very, very long time,” Peterman said.
Students who are not math and science types, such as Ali Castleman, College freshman, seem more inclined to take alternatives to Calculus and Chemistry in order to fulfill requirements.
Math is Castleman’s “least favorite thing in the world.” Therefore, she is planning to take Introduction to Linguistics, which fulfills the National Sciences and Mathematics sector. “I’m kind of interested in it, so it’s nice that it fulfills that requirement,” she said.
Castleman said she does not mind the various course requirements at Penn. “I think the enormous course book is so overwhelming, and I think it’s good that they force you to go out of your comfort zone,” she added.
College junior Jenny Feldstein agreed. “I think it is a good way for someone who wants a liberal arts education to take classes in a lot of different areas,” she wrote in an e-mail.
Two popular courses, Introduction to Geology and Astronomy 001: A Survey of the Universe, fulfill both the Physical World sector and the Quantitative Data Analysis requirement. Peterman explained that classes that count toward the requirement “incorporate exercises to teach data analysis.”
J.J. Katz, a College senior who took Astronomy his sophomore year, wrote in an e-mail that he took the class because he finds “the concept of things beyond our planet intriguing — and it fulfilled two requirements.”
While he said that he may have taken the course if it had not fulfilled the two requirements, he added that this was not the case for many others. “For most people it was either geology or astronomy, and not because they were particularly interested in either,” he wrote.
Feldstein, who took Introduction to Geology and Ideas in Mathematics, which both fulfill a sector and a fundamental approach, wrote she “probably wouldn’t have taken them if they didn’t fulfill requirements.”
Still, she wrote she would have taken Greek and Roman Mythology , which fulfills Arts and Letters and Cross Cultural Analysis, regardless of the requirements. In fact, she fulfilled Cross Cultural Analysis with another course.
College sophomore Jake Cassman said he took Theory and Musicianship last year to “get out of Calc.”
The class fulfilled the Formal Reasoning and Analysis requirement , and Cassman said it was “definitely” successful in teaching him formal reasoning skills.
And while it offered “a little bit of mathematical crossover,” he said the Music class was “not nearly as demanding as Calculus would have been as long as you’re into music.”
Planning to double major in Music and Political Science, Cassman would have taken the course anyway.
But he would not have taken the Philosophy of Space and Time, as he is now, in order to fulfill the Natural Science and Mathematics sector.
This does not necessarily mean that Cassman is unhappy with the system. While he understands why the College has its requirements, he said, “at the same time I’m very glad you can cut corners.”
Peterman and the College office do not necessarily disapprove.
When developing the curriculum, “the faculty was conscious of not wanting to constrain students,” Peterman said. “But at the same time they wanted to ensure students would acquire a facility with data analysis, formal reasoning and cultural analysis — [these classes] were made expressly to double count.”Comments powered by Disqus
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