Commonwealth University Launches Entirely New Academic Array
Every Course, Within Every Program, Within Every Degree, Within Every College was Rewritten, Reviewed, and Updated - In a Single Year
Commonwealth University of Pennsylvania (CU) has done what perhaps no other institution of higher education has done before - update and launch an entirely new curriculum in a single year. The change, which began with the fall 2023 semester following the integration of three historic public universities (Bloomsburg University, Lock Haven University, and Mansfield University) in 2022, has allowed CU to quickly create an academic array that is modernized for the educational needs of students and relevant to the requirements of today's employers.
"With the integration of the new university, we were offered the opportunity to do something enormous for our students," said Commonwealth University President Bashar Hanna. "Change of this magnitude often takes several years in higher education," he said. "Instead, we took the bull by the horns, collaborated with our faculty, regional employers, and area experts, and created an academic array that puts students, their employability, and quality academic experience at the center.
"With this new curriculum, we truly embrace the power of three, bringing together the best of what each CU location offers and building out the programs that create the opportunities our students need to succeed while at Commonwealth U and after graduation," he added.
The review and launching process for the new curriculum began with the faculty. Through a variety of sessions, the faculty and university leadership came together to begin the critical work of examining, in many cases, three different programs at three different institutions, and determining how best to identify their strongest attributes, modernize them for changing workforce and student needs, and ensure a quality experience for all students regardless of CU campus location.
The work was then expanded to invite key strategic partners to join curriculum advisory boards. These advisors included top area employers who shared their workforce needs, including what skills CU graduates require to succeed immediately on the job. Finally, in some cases, feedback was gathered from the students themselves.
"While students are at the heart of this new curriculum, the faculty were most definitely its champions," said Commonwealth University Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Diana Rogers-Adkinson. "Yes, our leadership could have simply picked one of the three campus programs and been done with it. However, that would not have coalesced the faculty at our three locations. The faculty needed the opportunity to come together as one department, one mind, one soul, one curriculum."
Relevance and modernity are the two words that come immediately to mind when discussing the new array, she noted. To accomplish those goals, the faculty worked with regional employers and advisory groups to suggest outcomes desired from CU graduates. These outcomes were taken into consideration in the development of course offerings and material. In addition, high-impact practices such as internships and undergraduate research were thoroughly embedded into academic programs.
"Every single year students now have the opportunity to do some type of applied work, be that on or off campus," Rogers-Adkinson said. "And a majority of these are embedded experiences in our degree programs."
This infusion of high-impact experience into each degree is part of each student's new Professional Map.
"We've embedded these practices across the four-year degree, and we call that our Professional Map," Rogers-Adkinson explained. "Commonwealth U students now get to see two things right up front: here's my Degree Map, which includes the content I'm going to learn over those four years and, simultaneously, here's my Professional Map, which includes experiences either in or out of the classroom that tie my learning to the real application."
The update also allowed CU to take a close look at how technology is embedded in the curriculum. With different opportunities and faculty at each location, it was important to ensure students at one location did not miss out on the opportunities at another of the three locations. To combat this, many programs and courses have both face-to-face and remote or hybrid format offerings.
Several of these programs also take advantage of new technologies for remote learning, such as the newly launched WeConnect and Zoom+ classrooms. These high-tech spaces allow students attending the remote classes to feel physically in the learning space with their in-person professors and peers at another campus location. The six WeConnect classrooms across the CU campuses allow for a more immersive digital experience for remote learning by using large high-definition screens and sound systems to feature classmates' faces and voices similarly to how they would appear in a traditional lecture hall setting. The new classrooms allow students to make eye contact with the professor, and the professor to engage them and the learning space in much more interactive, natural ways than traditional online meeting platforms allow.
"We are so pleased to be able to offer the new Commonwealth U curriculum this semester," Hanna said. "It has been a labor of love and much hard work that brings together the absolute best our faculty and facilities have to offer, coupled with the experiences employers need right now. I could not be more proud of our community."
Additional information on the new academic array was featured on the CU Common Ground podcast: www.commonwealthu.edu/commonground.