Electives should facilitate collaboration

By Editorial Board

Columbia stands out among other colleges and universities because of its unique curriculum in which students are encouraged to begin taking major classes during their first semester. The approach typically attracts students who are set on a certain career path and want to be immersed in their major from day one.

Columbia students are promised they will graduate with a developed portfolio and are encouraged to find their “creative posse” from the moment they step on campus. Fostering collaboration in the classroom is one of the most simple and effective ways to ensure that happens. One’s “creative posse” should extend beyond a student’s major, though. The college should seek to complement its creative curriculum with an immersive experience that can only be offered through electives that require working on cross-departmental projects. Creating or even requiring electives that facilitate project-based learning will create a sense of community and prepare students for the collaborative environment typically found in workplaces. 

The college’s Strategic Plan is cognizant of the value of project-based learning and has promised to implement it. Creating “credit-bearing, interdisciplinary, project-based collaborative learning opportunities” is one of the new objectives outlined. All proposals for these new interdisciplinary courses will be finished by May 2016, according to the plan. Facilitating collaboration across majors will equip students with new skills while still providing them with a course sequence related to their career goals. It is commendable that the administration has prioritized instituting project-based learning. The administration also seeks to create opportunities for collaboration among students through the new student center, according to a Nov. 10 email sent to students by the college. 

The college currently offers several project-based courses, including “Collaborative Seminar,” which joins design students and directing students together to develop a theatrical, operatic or musical piece, according to the course catalog. In the “College Magazine Workshop” course, illustration and journalism students work together to produce Echo, the college’s annual magazine. To ensure both design and journalism students receive credit to satisfy their programs’s requirements, the course is cross-listed for both majors. 

Some faculty and staff members also work with other professors to join students for assignments and projects in independent courses. About 300 students enrolled in theatre courses “Acting II: Advanced Scene Study” and “Acting II: Character and Ensemble” are working with cinema art + science students enrolled in “Directing I” and “Directing II” courses in an interdisciplinary project facilitated by professors Brian Shaw, Wendi Weber and Tom Fraterrigo, according to Shaw. Creative writing students enrolled in the “Writing for Children” course collaborate with Art + Design students taking the “Children’s Book Illustration” course to draft a spread for a children’s book. 

Projects like these could be instituted as a norm on campus. To provide students with meaningful elective options, the college should continue to explore  project-based courses that offer students a well-rounded arts education.