The Liberal Art University in Hong Kong
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A Structured Common Core: Foundation and Sequence

(Effective from the 2018-19 intake)

1) Current Practice

 

When the University went through the 3-3-4 academic reform, the Core Curriculum was a key component that had been emphasized and increased in weight. The Common Core of four courses, required for all students, was meant to form the heart of the Core Curriculum, providing a shared learning experience. As such, the general view then was that most students would be willing to follow the recommended pattern in taking the four courses. Thus there was no formal restriction in this regard provided that students complete all the four courses before graduation. However, after years of implementation, it is observed that quite a considerable number of students prefer delaying the taking of Common Core courses for different reasons and personal considerations. The recommended pattern was not effectively followed.

 

The variations in study pattern of Common Core courses had led to many drawbacks, both pedagogical and administrative. The cohesion and connection among the four courses can hardly be recognized by students, since they take the courses in any order and in different years. This makes it impossible for students to appreciate the Common Core as an important and essential foundation of LU’s liberal arts education. The loose arrangement of when students take the courses also hinders the progressive development of skills that is ideally beneficial for students’ learning: delays in taking the Common Core courses means students are ill-prepared to handle advanced coursework in their major fields since they lack the basic skills and knowledge the Common Core is meant to provide. The persistent procrastination of students taking Common Core courses had also led to unnecessary resource burdens that the University had to pay for.

 

2) Proposal for a Structured Common Core

 

The new Common Core will be implemented in 2018-19, including revamped individual courses that are more closely integrated with one another. It is proposed that, at the same time, a structured sequence for the four Common Core courses be mandated, to maximize the educational impact of the revamped Common Core.

 

Requiring Common Core courses to be taken in a structured sequence, as a foundation, would guarantee that students acquire necessary knowledge and skills before they advance to the next level. The new Common Core ensures a progressive development within itself, whereby the Year 2 courses build directly on the Year 1 courses, and there is an increasing emphasis on core skills over knowledge acquisition. As a complete set of courses, the Common Core lays a necessary foundation: with the recurrent practice of reading, writing, speaking, and argumentation required in all four courses. Because at least half of Common Core classroom hours are conducted in small-class non-lecture format, junior-year students are given the opportunity to hone their thinking and communication skills in preparation for the advanced coursework of their senior years.

 

A) Common Core as Foundation

 

The new Common Core entails a graduated learning process by which the two designated Year 2 courses build on the skills and knowledge gained in the two designated Year 1 courses. In their first year, students learn how to think, and how to reflect on their own processes of thinking. They also acquire an understanding of Hong Kong's uniqueness and its cross-border and cross-cultural connections. In Year 2, students' critical thinking skills are expanded and advanced through learning scientific processes and investigative patterns. Additionally, students' understanding of their social context is enlarged through a historical examination of China's global role and relationships.

 

The Common Core constitutes a fundamental foundation necessary to all students. The thinking skills that the courses develop-- of querying, investigating, evaluating, analyzing, and communicating-- must be used in all fields of study. The knowledge students gain-- of Hong Kong and China, of global dynamics and relations, of the mechanisms of change in both the human and the natural worlds-- form a framework within which they can interpret the context that shapes their current and future lives.

 

This combination of skills and knowledge is not only relevant to, but a prerequisite for, advanced coursework in all major programmes. The courses are therefore designed specifically for Year 1 and Year 2 students, prior to the in-depth and field-specific learning that will occupy students in Years 3 and 4.

 

 

B) Common Core as Structured Sequence

 

The progression of knowledge and skills of the Common Core courses relies on the cohesion and integration among the courses. The Common Core courses are designed to be integrative and inter-linked in both content knowledge and pedagogy for skill development across Year 1 and Year 2.

 

In particular, CCC 8011 Critical Thinking: Analysis and Argumentation and CCC8013 The Process of Science, designated as Year 1 and Year 2 courses respectively, complement each other in the intended sequence for developing the critical thinking and investigative skills of students. The former emphasizes on developing basic skills of analyzing problems, evaluating inferences, and presenting arguments in forms of debates, argumentative writing or in-class discussion; the latter goes further to expand students’ understanding of scientific methodology and how they can apply the critical thinking skills learned in the freshmen core course to systematically investigate, analyze and evaluate scientific problems happening around us, in forms of research projects, essay writing and lab assignments. A structured sequence of these two closely-related courses is essentially beneficial to students for building a solid foundation that would enable them to strengthen their problem solving skills to tackle future challenges in a critical, informed and succinct manner, whether in senior years or beyond.

 

Similarly, CCC8012 The Making of Hong Kong and CCC8014 China in World History are complementary in providing a sense of “rooted globalism” that students are confronted to build up their understanding of and the ability to make critical reflection on major social and historical developments about Hong Kong, China and the world from multiple perspectives. Setting Hong Kong as the subject matter in the freshmen year, students learn how to read, analyze and evaluate societal issues critically through learning about the past and present of Hong Kong, and to construct their reflections in forms of group presentations, report writing and class performance. Riding on this foundation, students in the second year will study the role of China and its interactions with the rest of the world in more in-depth and complex contexts. The skills developed in the freshmen year will transform to tools for them to excel in the second year core course that demands more strongly on their capability to originate and establish their own standpoints in forms of essay writing and debates based on conceptually challenging ideas and texts.

 

3) Implementation starting from the 2018-19 intake

 

Students will be assigned to take the designated Year 1 courses CCC8011 Critical Thinking: Analysis and Argumentation and CCC8012 The Making of Hong Kong in the freshmen year, and be assigned to take the designated Year 2 courses CCC8013 The Process of Science and CCC8014 China in World History in the second year (or the third year for senior intake students). Unless with the approval of the Director of CCGE, students are not allowed to drop these assigned courses in the designated year. Failed students will be assigned to retake the course the next term, unless with the approval of the Director of CCGE.

 

(Approved by the Senate on 28 May 2018)