Curricular Approach Q&A: How do upperclass students fit into a curriculum?

A curricular approach is sequenced and scaffolded to follow a student’s learning journey through the institution over time. Just as you need to take a 101 course before moving on to a more advanced 201 or 301 course, a co-curriculum follows this same progression. Many institutions that begin developing a curriculum focus on their first year students first. This makes sense as you’re beginning from a more defined starting point and it’s often easier to transition to a curricular approach by letting your curriculum develop alongside a new student cohort. But where do upper division students, your sophomores, juniors, and seniors fit in?

For upper division students, many curricula have somewhat fewer or less ambitions goals/outcomes as students move through their college experience.  First year learning objectives are a bit more expansive, as first year students have more to learn and are engaged more directly in your your campus and communities in very specific ways.  As students move through, they start getting their learning from other sources, both inside and outside the university, and their need to rely on specific aspects of a formal co-curriculum may lessen over time. This is especially noticeable in the ways in which students view and interact with residence life. Frequently, students move from the more interative format of traditionally designed residence halls into more independent apartment and suite style living. This is completely natural and something you’d likely want to encourage.  Through your curriculum, you’re essentially trying to teach students to become more self-directed learners.

Additionally, how you structure your learning strategies can change as a student move through their journey.  First year students might be more amenable to a program-based format and upper-class students less so.  I often see upper class communities switch to strategies that are more 1-1 based, more asynchronous, more group dialogue based.  In essence, the method of teaching changes.  This is similar to how introductory courses may be more lecture style and higher level courses may become smaller and more discussion-based.

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