August 31, 2017

The Record explored changes that can be expected with the implementation of the Christ at the Core curriculum that started last year.

Inaugurated last fall for the class of 2020, Wheaton’s Christ at the Core general education system is now in a waiting phase. Christ at the Core is the new curriculum initiative that was implemented last year, expanding to make 20 new AIS courses available this year. The curriculum’s second year will involve “micro level” changes as faculty and administration prepare to evaluate its efficacy. In addition to smaller-scale adjustments to readings and assignments from individual professors, students can expect a wider offering of Christ at the Core classes in all departments.

“Year two will be a year of reflecting on what went well and identifying early the areas where we need to improve,” said Sarah Miglio, director for core curriculum studies. “We have also begun work designing the process for our review of each component of Christ at the Core.”

A plan is in place to review each core, theme and course that is a part of Christ at the Core. This review process, says Miglio, will keep faculty and administrators committed to the initial vision for Christ at the Core.

Photo by Kendall Baxter

Cohesiveness was one of the major goals when faculty and administrators sought to replace the old Legacy general education system. First Year Seminars (FYS), Advanced Integrative Seminars (AIS) and senior capstones now connect more directly to each other as well as to various disciplines across the college. While certain class offerings have been expanded, major adjustments to Christ at the Core will wait until next year when the official evaluation process for the curriculum begins.

“You don’t want to start changing things up on the basis of just one run-through,” said Bryan McGraw, professor of political science and chair of the curriculum committee. “Really, our job this year is to continue to … tweak things at the edges and start planning for the evaluative stuff to come.”

Miglio stated that most of this year’s changes will be “behind-the-scenes.” The changes will focus on improved logistics, faculty development and the approval of new course proposals.

According to McGraw, Christ at the Core’s seminar courses — First Year Seminars and Advanced Integrative Seminars — arguably supply both the program’s greatest strength and its greatest challenges. FYS courses allow professors from various departments to introduce first-year students to biblical and theological themes which they will encounter throughout their education. AIS courses allows students to build on these themes, integrating them with the specific topic of the course. This is a challenge that professors take on alongside students, becoming, in McGraw’s words, “more like liberal arts professors” as they work to make connections across disciplines.

“[The seminars] force us … to go beyond our comfort zones,” McGraw said. “I think that might change the teaching more broadly.”

The impact is not on faculty alone. For sophomore Bethany Litteral, Dr. David Lauber’s FYS “What is Love?” last fall was foundational to her Wheaton education. Litteral highlighted the unique opportunity to choose a topic which interested her while learning the same base material as the rest of her peers enrolled in other seminars.

“My First Year Seminar was honestly one of my favorite classes from my freshman year,” Litteral said. “We each acquired the necessary understanding of the who, what, where and why of a Christian liberal arts college, but could do it through a lens that spoke to each one of us individually. No other class gets across the same critical, universal information in such a diverse and personal way.”

Christ at the Core counters broader trends in higher education towards “distribution models,” which allow students a cafeteria-style choice of courses across many disciplines. The main criticism of this model is that it often leads to a checklist mentality rather than true engagement in the course material. With the coherence in core material that was so vital to Christ at the Core’s creation, Wheaton seeks to move away from this pattern.

“The fact that Wheaton has moved away from [the distribution model] I think is actually a good thing, and I think it reflects the fact that we have a more cohesive sense of what an education is,” McGraw said.

Miglio echoed McGraw in her affirmation of the curriculum’s vision.

“The vision of Christ at the Core is the education of the whole person for faithful living by empowering our students’ capacity to discover across all the disciplines God’s truth,” Miglio said. “Christ at the Core is a tangible expression of Wheaton College’s commitment to academic excellence in a Christian learning community.”