Augustana responds to the needs of students with curricular changes and program innovation

Augustana will be offering three new interdisciplinary programs in the Fall of 2020. These programs combine traditional disciplines—like our Creativity and Culture program which blends English, visual art, drama and music—to allow students more flexibility in pursuing their interests.

Tia Lalani - 04 August 2020

Starting in Fall 2020, students at the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus will have the opportunity to pursue three unique interdisciplinary majors and a new core developed around project-based learning, followed by an updated music program in Fall 2021.

“We want to offer a distinct learning experience,” said Brandon Alakas, English professor and member of the initial curricular reform committee that led these changes, “while maintaining the spirit of Augustana as a liberal arts institution, and a campus that is built on teaching and learning innovation.”

A curriculum to address student need

Following a change to Augustana’s academic calendar where students now have the chance to take an immersive and experiential three-week course (3-11) and embark on university studies by starting with an interdisciplinary seminar based on an interesting and timely topic (First Year Seminar), the next logical step was to take a look at our curriculum.

“With ongoing social and political culture dynamic shifts, it’s important to make sure our programming is updated and responsive to these changes,” said professor Rebecca Purc-Stephenson, who teaches psychology and was also instrumental in planning and recommending these changes. “Students' wants, interests and preferences change, too, so we need to make sure we’re offering an updated and interesting curriculum that’s going to meet the needs of current students.”

After an environmental scan of other liberal arts and smaller sized campuses, various workshops and presentations on curricular reform, taking a close look Augustana’s own Mission and Identity and its place within the wider institution and countless meetings between Augustana faculty members, the campus arrived at three new programs, a new project-based core and substantial changes to the music program.

These majors include Ethics & Global Studies; Creativity and Culture; and Law, Crime & Justice Studies. Each includes a blend of more traditional disciplines—for example, Law, Crime & Justice Studies will include elements of sociology, history, political studies and psychology—but these majors are much more than that.

“What excites me about these programs is that they will allow students to tailor their degree to their own interests,” said professor Alakas. “They’re also designed with marketability and work after graduation in mind. Students who take these programs will foster a nimble set of critical thinking skills and a number of other tools that have a broader application in the real world.”

Augustana’s approach to internships and co-ops

The project-based core will also equip students with a set of skills—critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity—that will help them excel in any industry. Students will benefit from working on real-world issues, or “wicked problems”, with local businesses and organizations.

“The project-based core is kind of our approach to internships and co-op placements,” said professor Purc-Stephenson. “By the time they graduate, our students will have worked with community stakeholders and will have applied what they’ve learned in class to complex, real-world problems.”

Listening to our students’ futures

Even the changes to the music program have career in mind.

“Our program will now provide students with really clear pathways,” explained Ardelle Ries, vocal professor and director of music at Augustana. “Whether students want to open their own private studio, become a choral conductor, teach music or practice music therapy after graduation, it will no longer be a case of ‘study music, and then what?’”

More than that, the newly designed music program also offers a broader range of classes for students who aren’t necessarily enrolled in the program or set on a future in music. The program aligns with professor Ries’ beliefs about music in general.

“I want to equip my students with the tools to be passionate about the fundamental notion that music is for absolutely everyone,” says professor Ries, who also runs an intergenerational community choir, SingAble, which promotes music as therapy and, in the past, has employed student researchers from psychology.

Ultimately, these changes were made to meet students where they are at, and help equip them with the tools needed for success wherever they choose to go.

“We are making very deliberate changes to our curriculum to add value to the student,” concludes professor Purc-Stephenson.

Not stopping there

Although some of these programming changes will begin this Fall, Augustana faculty members are already hard at work in creating additional interdisciplinary programs.

“The goal is for everyone to become a multidisciplinary major in some way. We’re a community that is okay with blending disciplines, and because of our size we’re more malleable and resilient,” said professor Purc-Stephenson. “Although this particular process is new, I’ve never gone a year without creating a new course (and I’ve been at Augustana for 11 years). Change is normal here.”

Augustana is excited to continue to create programming that is of value to our students and that offers a unique experience, not just within the University of Alberta, but within the province.

“Given all the current fiscal, structural and COVID-19-related challenges we have been called to face, our development of a new vision and of new programming are nothing short of remarkable," says Augustana Dean Demetres Tryphonopoulos. "I am very proud of the efforts of our faculty members who have demonstrated exemplary professionalism, an imaginative way of responding to our students’ current needs and the resilience and commitment required in ensuring that Augustana continues to thrive as a leading, forward-looking liberal arts and sciences institution.”

This story originally appeared in the 2020 Report to the Community.