English department evaluates changes to major

The English department completed its restructuring of the English major last year. The department made two major changes to its curriculum in order to enhance the education of the students. All English courses are now four credits, which means that they are scheduled for 200 minutes a week. The requirement that must be met in order to receive an English degree has also changed, including a shift in the number of classes required as well as the types of classes offered. The major now encompasses a broader range of subjects that students can choose to study as well as both 300 and 400-level courses.

“Professors are using it to widen the range of ways in which they engage with students in the classroom,” English Department Chair Paul Schacht said. “We have always mixed up lecture and discussion, but a number of classes are putting students into groups and allotting time for group projects.”

This includes in-class workshops on writing and having students collaborate with each other online through blogging and forum discussion. According to Schacht, the primary benefit of the four-credit courses is that they "give students the freedom to try different kinds of things.”

He also stressed the importance of a greater number of choices when it comes to choosing classes.

“Students can still spread themselves out historically, since they are required to take at least one class that studies early, modern and recent literature,” Schacht said. “With the previous English major, too many students experienced [the major] merely as a checklist and crossing things off. We want to change that.”

400-level courses have recently been implemented to the major as well.

“We strived to put the emphasis in each course level on certain outcomes that we want our students to meet,” Schacht added. “As they go from one level to another, they will be building on skills and knowledge they had acquired while adding new ones as well. Students have much more freedom in the courses they take.”

300-level courses focus on literary texts in a historical context, while 400-level courses focus on criticism. In an effort to include each professor's ideas on what the most important aspects of the new major would be, professors divided themselves into groups. Each group of professors came up with an idea of the essential learning outcomes and decided on the most important area: to create a meaningful experience.

“We asked ourselves, ‘What are the most important skills for an English major to have when he or she graduates? What curriculum ensures that students acquire and improve that knowledge?’" Schacht said.

Now that the new major is implemented, Schacht noted that it is vital that professors are "committed to working together to ensure that students are reaching their goals."

Professors answered a quick assessment pertaining to their progress. The most recent assessment helped Schacht decide which parts of the major still need work. The professors are bringing students into the conversation as well.

"I appreciate it as a student because it gives me more flexibility in the classes I take and it definitely makes it easier to expose yourself to fewer types of writing overall,” junior English major Kristen Druse said. “I don't think my individual classes have been taught differently, but I think that this gives professors more flexibility to design classes that they're excited to teach, which is great for the department as a whole."

Schacht has high hopes for the “new and improved” English major.

"I think this change is fantastic,” he said. “Hopefully, it will help draw students towards deciding on a degree in English."