Goals for Student Learning
In fall 2011, Swarthmore College Provost Thomas Stephenson acted to renew our commitment and progress with assessment. The College's Assessment Plan had identified the articulation of goals for student learning as a first step in assessment, but reviews of departmental reports found that this was inconsistently done. In a November 2011 email to the faculty, the Provost requested that all departments articulate their goals for student learning by the end of the academic year. The End-of-Year Assessment Reports submitted by departments included these goals. Since then departments have begun to assess their goals for student learning, reporting on their work in their annual End-of-Year Reports. The 2012-13 and 2013-14 Academic Assessment Committees have been working to draft Institutional Level Goals for Student Learning. The 2012-13 Academic Assessment Committee began this work by looking at overlap in the departmental goals.
A number of departments have allowed us to share their goal statements here, as examples. All statements of goals for student learning should be regarded as works in progress. Departments may make changes to their statements as they deem appropriate.
(For more resources on articulating goals for student learning, see "Resources - Learning Goals".)
Art History Learning Goals and Objectives
- Students will broaden their perspectives and ways of thinking through the study of a variety of works of art and architecture produced in different cultures and at different times.
- Through carefully looking at works of art and architecture students will learn to dedicate the patient, sustained effort necessary to come to an understanding of an object on its own terms.
- Through the study of works of art and architecture students will learn to move beyond subjective response to develop an informed understanding of something outside their knowledge and experience.
- Through visual analysis students will be able to comprehend and articulate the logic of the formal, spatial, material, and technical elements of a work of art or architecture.
- Through contextual analysis students will know how to develop an interpretative project by:
- Critically assessing the art historical literature
- Identifying the subject of the work of art and exploring its meanings
- Situating the work in its context of production and reception
- Students will be able to place works of art and architecture within the history of art.
- Students will learn to critically assess disciplinary definitions, interpretive methods, and historical explanations of works of art and architecture.
- Students will be able to craft lucid historical arguments in dialogue with the larger disciplinary tradition.
Studio Art Learning Goals and Objectives
- Students will develop and enhance their awareness and understanding of the visual world, particularly the natural world and the world of the visual arts, through a thorough study of design principals and observational practices.
- By strengthening their observational drawing skills and recognition of the complexities and continual rearrangement of design elements (i.e. line, shape, rhythm, color, space, volume, etc.), students will be better able to critically understand the visual structure of objects and scenes, particularly in works of art.
- Students will be introduced to a wide array of materials and methods. These will include traditional and historical practices as well as those more contemporary and innovative. Special attention will be paid to safe and environmentally responsible practices.
- Through these studies, students will be able to engage, and more fully understand, the principals and precepts that guide others while producing their own works of art. This visual intelligence will lead to an enhanced practice of solving problems that arise in the making of their own works.
- Students will then be better able to place their work, and the works of others, into a larger community context. In turn, this will re-enforce the communicative power and purpose of making art. With a more nuanced, measured, and interpretive understanding of art forms, students will mature into better critics and practitioners whether in the fine arts or applied fields.
- Ultimately, students will make art that is intellectually honest, personal, and useful as a means of better understanding their lives and experiences. Their work will present these ideas in cogent, original and convincing ways.
The Biology department has created a "curricular map" which presents competencies ("skills") students should master by the time they complete the biology major. For each course, grey-filled squares identify skills that are addressed in that course. Members of the Swarthmore community may view the chart.
The goal of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry is for students to learn chemistry and biochemistry. This overarching goal can be elaborated along the following lines:
- Fundamental principles of chemistry. Students will explore and learn the canonical knowledge, methods, and concepts of the discipline of chemistry as a whole, and of the five sub disciplines into which chemistry is traditionally divided: Analytical, Biochemistry, Inorganic, Organic, and Physical. Students will gain insight into the unique perspectives of these five areas, and into the connections between them, so as to develop a broad, balanced, and detailed understanding of the field as a whole. More detailed information regarding the specific content traditionally associated with these five sub disciplines at the undergraduate level can be found in The American Chemical Society Guidelines for Bachelor’s Degree Programs.
- The scientific method. The discipline of chemistry rests on the scientific method. Students will demonstrate an understanding and appreciation of the scientific method, of experimental design, of scientific integrity, and of the constantly evolving nature of scientific knowledge.
- Problem solving skills. Students will develop the ability to apply the facts and principles of chemistry to solve diverse problems. These skills will include critical thinking and facility with quantitative and mathematical approaches.
- Communication skills. Students will demonstrate the ability to communicate clearly and effectively about chemistry with both technical and non-technical audiences, using verbal, written, and graphical modes. They will demonstrate the ability to work in teams to achieve common goals. Students will gain the ability to locate information in the published chemical literature, and to evaluate literature sources critically.
- Chemical safety and environmental stewardship. Students will demonstrate the ability to conduct laboratory work in a manner that is safe and that follows proper practices for the disposal of chemical waste. Students will also develop an awareness of the broader societal and environmental impact of chemical practice.
- The broader context: communication, leadership, and society. The discipline of chemistry has many important connections to the world and to society beyond the research laboratory. Students will gain an appreciation for these connections and recognize that chemistry surrounds our daily lives.
Goals for the Computer Science Major
- Goal: Students should be able to apply problem solving skills to formalize general problem statements into precise algorithmic solutions. These goals are assessed via the lab sequence in every computer science class
- Subgoal: Students should be able to use abstraction to solve problems.
The use of abstraction is found throughout the computer science curriculum. For example:
- Students in CS21 should master basic abstractions such as variables and functions, as well as be introduced to more advanced abstractions such as the call stack and object-oriented programming.
- Students in CS35 should effectively use abstractions such as object-oriented programming and abstract data types such as lists, graphs, and trees.
- Students in CS33 should effectively use abstractions such as digital logical structures, the Von Neumann model, and the call stack.
- We expect all majors and minors to be able to demonstrate their understanding of these abstractions taught in this introductory sequence.
- Subgoal: Students should be able to use critical and creative thinking skills to solve problems.
- Students should be able to turn general or abstract ideas into formal algorithms. This process begins by defining the program specializations and then turning pseudo-code into a computer program using an iterative top-down design process. Students are exposed to numerous examples of this in the introductory course sequence and are asked to demonstrate their proficiency of this throughout the curriculum.
- Subgoal: Students should be able to use abstraction to solve problems.
- Goal: Students should become proficient programmers. These goals are assessed via the lab sequence in every computer science class.
- Subgoal: Students will to be exposed to multiple programming paradigms in order to make them more able to learn new programming languages on their own. This skill is invaluable given the rapid changes in the discipline.
Students will learn multiple programming paradigms. In CS21, students are exposed to imperative programming and object-oriented programming. In CS35, students refine their object-oriented programming skills. Imperative and object-oriented paradigms are reinforced throughout much of the curriculum. Additionally, some of our courses will expose students to other programming paradigms such as parallel programming (CS33, CS40, CS87),functional programming (CS37), and distributed programming (CS87).
- Subgoal: Students should assume their programs will contain errors and that their programs will receive invalid input from external sources. Students should learn to write programs that are robust. Students should learn debugging skills, as well as how to adequately test programs.
Students should be able to use debugging tools (e.g. gdb) to find errors in programs. Students should be able to use unit testing to verify programs.
- Subgoal: Students should have experience using external APIs and libraries.
When writing larger software systems, students must be able to use APIs and libraries that are provided by a third party. This includes being able to include a library into a program, as well as be able to understand how to use a library through documentation of the API provided by the authors of the library.
- Subgoal: Students will to be exposed to multiple programming paradigms in order to make them more able to learn new programming languages on their own. This skill is invaluable given the rapid changes in the discipline.
- Goal: Students should demonstrate an understanding of the interplay between theory and practice.
Students should be able to make predictions about the best case, worst case and average case running time of an algorithm, function, and/or program. Students should be able to use experimentation to validate these hypotheses. Students should be able to analyze and discuss the tradeoff between different approaches to the same problem. Students should be able to justify both that their algorithm is correct and their analysis of its complexity is correct.
- Goal: Students should have a broad exposure to computer systems.
Students should understand the interaction between hardware and software. Students should be exposed to layered systems, understand why these abstractions are beneficial, and be able to use these abstractions to effectively interact with complex systems. Students should be able to manage system resources. Students should understand, at a high-level, how computers execute programs and the role of the operating system. Students should be exposed to parallel and distributed systems and algorithms. Students should understand the interplay of algorithmic complexity and system costs that effect program runtime. Students should understand the trade-offs between system design and understand the importance of the separation of policy and mechanism in system design.
- Goal: Students should have experience conducting research and completing large projects. Often such large projects will require a team effort.
Students should be able to formulate and refine a reasonable research question. Students should be able to investigate related work, create a bibliography, and read primary literature. Students should be able to write research reports describing their work and be able to present this work orally.
- Subgoal: Students should have the ability to work as part of a team.
- Goal: Students should have a broad exposure to computer science.
Students should be exposed to multiple areas in computer science (e.g. systems, algorithms and theory, and applications).
- Goal: Students should be able to apply the computational and algorithmic problem solving skills learned in computer science across many disciplines.
Classics Learning Goals (revised June 2015)
1. Language students will learn to read Greek and Latin texts accurately and perceptively, and with enough fluency to appreciate complexities of language and thought.
2. Through careful reading and analysis of ancient texts students will learn to move beyond subjective response and dedicate the patient, sustained effort necessary to come to an understanding of a text in its own right.
3. Students will learn the value of coming to understand a culture through its language.
4. Students will recognize and appreciate the diversity of Greek and Roman cultures and peoples, and the profound differences between the ancient and the modern worlds. They will also gain an understanding of how the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome are connected to other ancient cultures, for example, to those of the Near East.
5. Students will be able to place classical texts within the history of Greek and Latin literatures.
6. Students will learn to participate in the scholarly discourse of the field of Classics.
7. Students will acquire foundational knowledge of, and learn the issues, debates, and interpretations of significant works of Greek and Roman literature significant periods of historical experience in classical antiquity.
8. Students will develop their own perceptions of important interpretive issues in various disciplines of Classical Studies, along with enough background knowledge in primary and secondary sources to allow arguments to be pursued in depth, both orally and in formal academic prose.
9. Students will learn the methodologies and tools of other disciplines and how to write about Classical literature and history from a variety of critical perspectives.
10. Students will learn to assess critically the evidence of the past through first-hand exposure to primary sources and historical research. Students will learn how to conceptualize a historical problem, conduct original research, read deeply primary source documents, assess evidence critically, formulate analytical questions, construct and support lucid, original arguments, and connect their arguments to the writings of other historians.
11. Students will develop the skills of clear and coherent interpretative writing as well as careful listening and oral presentation. Students will understand and produce the elements of well-written essays, including correct grammar and punctuation, lucid and felicitous style, appropriate citation of primary and secondary sources, the statement of a thesis and the construction of persuasive, well-reasoned, and organized arguments. Students will also learn to make cogent oral arguments about scholarly writing, to offer constructive criticism of their peers’ work, as well as clear and concise verbal presentations of their own historical interpretations.
Dance Program Goals for Student Learning (Revised 2016)
Our program has a large and vibrant community of students engaged in dance in various ways. Through performance, study. and regular concert-going, these dance citizens should emerge with a deeper appreciation of aesthetics and understand dance as an essential aspect of culture and humanity, to be treasured and nourished at all levels of society. This might be more simply understood as dance engagement in the broadest sense.
Goals for Technique Courses
Two questions govern our goals regarding technique courses:
- What are the core priorities/principles of the technical vocabulary/style?
- How do you articulate those priorities/principles physically and verbally?
We seek to have students in all technique classes:
- understand and utilize dynamic anatomical alignment
- develop an understanding of how rhythms are created and recreated and the capacity to be musically expressive in performance
- exhibit a somatic understanding of the continuum between tension and release as it exists in various styles
- engage in gradually more nuanced and challenging movement articulation
- gain an understanding of terminology, both written and verbal, appropriate to the style
- understand a variety of methodologies relevant to the style and to find, through those methodologies a shared language for movement
- become conversant with the evolution of the style through dancing in the studio as well as by engaging in library research (books, journal articles, DVD’s, concert attendance, etc.)
- become aware of and explore ways that contemporary choreographic practices, understandings of anatomy, and identity impact the study of dance technique.
- develop an understanding of the sensibility/context/continuum in which various techniques evolve.
Goals for Repertory Courses:
- achieve a consistent level of physical competence as a member of an ensemble,
- demonstrate clarity of choreographic intent in performance and in written analysis,
- develop expressivity and interpretive ability in relation to the performance of choreography,
- acquire the capacity as a performer to share one’s understanding of the choreography and one’s individual ‘reading’ of it with an audience,
- incorporate the goals noted regarding technique classes to the repertory experience,
- develop familiarity with the stylistic context in which the specific repertory experience resides,
- invest (as an individual) in creating a symbiotic group identity as a member of an ensemble.
Goals for Students in Composition/Choreography Courses:
- identify one’s own movement profile as well as one’s perception(s) and projection(s) regarding movement,
- acquire skills in a variety of choreographic methods,
- apply these methods to specific choreographic problems,
- through exploring these problems develop a personal choreographic statement,
- reflect analytically on one’s own work and that of others in writing and through oral discussion,
- receive and synthesize the observations of others regarding your compositions,
- as a result of the process noted in 1-6 above, articulate one’s current choreographic statement(s) in writing and through oral discussion.
Goals for Students in History/Theory Courses:
- engage in debates regarding dance as a domain of scholarly inquiry,
- understand a variety of approaches to developing histories and theories central to dance scholarship,
- formulate individual inquiries regarding those histories and theories through both written and oral discourse,
- place those histories and theories within different cultural and artistic contexts, both past and present,
- investigate the underlying interdisciplinarity in dance scholarship through both written research and oral discussion,
- develop and demonstrate through written work and oral discussion an understanding of the ways that different methodologies relate to bodies, ethnography, movement analysis, practitioner research, and visual culture.
To give Dance Majors the tools to engage actively and critically with music and dance of varying genres.
- We expect Dance Majors to explore ethnographic field methods and oral histories in Music and Dance.
- Dance Majors should be conversant with fundamental musical terms such as “Rhythm”, “Tempo”, and “Meter.”
Goals for Economics
- Learn and apply models in micro and macro and tools for analyzing economic processes, decisions, and institutions;
- Analyze and evaluate public policy; and
- Think critically about the outcomes of public and private economic institutions and systems domestically and globally.
Goals for Educational Studies (revised May 2016)
- Students will articulate that Educational Studies is an interdisciplinary field; they will be able to recognize and use research and theoretical frameworks from a range of disciplines to extend, refute, and confirm existing research, theory, and practice, and engage in productive dissemination.
- Students will be able to use evidence to support positions mad in discourse, writing, and use of media.
- Students will be able to produce effective academic writing.
- Students will be able to think critically and creatively about key concepts in the field including learning and development, social and cultural contexts of education, and contemporary political issues in the field and the role of education in society.
- Students will be able to use practice to inform theory and research.
- Students will be engaged in reflective community based fieldwork.
- Students will be self-reflective about their own position and the positions of others in political, social, and institutional structures and the possibilities for growth and change for themselves and others.
- Students will be constructive and generative problem solvers.
(This is an excerpt from "Engineering Department Assessment Documention, March 2012.")
Graduates with the bachelor of science degree in engineering are prepared to:
- Be flexible and resourceful, learn and apply new knowledge, and adapt successfully to novel circumstances and challenges.
- Communicate and work effectively with a broad variety of backgrounds at both a technical and non-technical level.
- Apply engineering principles and methdology to the design and analysis of systems and to the solution of a wide variety of problems.
- Consider scientific, technological, ethical, societal, political, and/or environmental issues in a local or global context.
Students must attain the following outcomes:
- Ability to apply mathematics, science and engineering principles.
- Ability to design and conduct experiments, analyze and interpret data.
- Ability to design a system, component, or process to meet desired needs.
- Ability to function on multidisciplinary teams.
- Ability to identify, formulate and solve engineering problems.
- Understanding of professional and ethical responsibility.
- Ability to communicate effectively.
- The broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global and societal context.
- Recognition of the need for and an ability to engage in life-long learning.
- Knowledge of contemporary issues.
- Ability to use the techniques, skills and modern engineering tools necessary for engineering practice.
In the context of a developing appreciation for and understanding of literature, expressed over time both orally and in writing, we want our students:
- to be familiar with the traditions of literatures written in the English language in the British Isles, in North America, and across the world;
- to consider the cultural and material circumstances that give rise to specific forms of imaginative expression;
- to be able to articulate how conventions of genre, stylistic choices, and figures of expression shape texts;
- to be conversant with the methodologies of literary scholarship particular to this field;
- to propose arguments that present, develop, and defend insightful claims about texts by presenting formal analysis, historical evidence, and engagement with existing criticism.
We anticipate keeping intact the writing objectives we articulated for our FYS/W courses, as an elaboration of point 5 above. We use them as our writing goals for the curriculum as a whole rather than just for FYSs.
Departmental Writing Objectives:
Students completing English Literature First-Year Seminars should improve their ability to
- develop an interesting, specific, supportable thesis
- marshall an argument that is logical, well-developed, and compelling
- support arguments with textual evidence carefully analyzed
- consider alternative readings or counter-arguments
- when appropriate, use criticism, theory, or cultural backgrounds to support the paper's claims
- craft a conclusion that summarizes and offers new reflections
- use appropriate diction, tone, grammar, spelling, and punctuation
Student Learning Goals
The objective of the History Department is to help students develop the intellectual and analytical skills to think critically about the past and the contemporary world. In addition to the skills of critical reading, thinking, and communication that we expect a liberal arts education to cultivate, the Department affirms the following student learning goals specific to the study of history.
- Students will recognize and appreciate the differentness of the past and the diversity of other cultures and peoples. They will also gain an understanding of the processes and causes of change over time.
- Students will acquire foundational knowledge of, and learn the issues, debates, and interpretations of historians for, significant periods of historical experience in multiple societies and time periods throughout the globe.
- Students will develop the ability to evaluate critically the arguments and analytical methods of historians. They will learn this not only by identifying, comparing, and analyzing the interpretations and approaches of different historians (historiography) but also by developing their own interpretations based on critical assessments of primary-source evidence and independent research.
- Students will learn to assess critically the evidence of the past through first-hand exposure to primary sources and historical research. Students will learn how to conceptualize a historical problem, conduct original research (in archives, microfilm, or online resources), read deeply primary source documents and assess critically various evidence, formulate analytical questions, construct and support original arguments, and connect their arguments to the writings of other historians.
- Students will develop the skills of clear and coherent historical writing as well as careful listening and oral presentation. Students will understand and produce the elements of well-written essays, including the statement of a thesis and the construction of persuasive, well-reasoned, and organized arguments. Students will also learn to confidently make cogent oral arguments about historians' writing, to offer constructive criticism of their peer's work, as well as clear and concise verbal presentations of their own historical interpretations.
The Senior Research Seminar (HIST 091) will serve as the culminating exercise for all History majors, in which they can demonstrate their achievement of these learning goals.
(Note: The department also has an expanded version of their goals, which provides additional details under each goal statement.)
Goals and objectives for student learning for the Swarthmore College Department of Mathematics and Statistics
Mathematics and Statistics are among the great achievements of human intellect and at the same time powerful tools. As Galileo said, the book of the universe \is written in the language of mathematics." The goal of the Department is to enable students to appreciate these achievements and use their power. To that end, majors and minors in the Department receive a firm foundation in pure mathematics and the opportunity to apply it - to statistics, physical science, biological science, computer science, social science, operations research, education, and finance - the list grows.
Students typically enter our department with strong skills, but there is always room for improvement and new knowledge. In each course students should gain skills in many of the following broad categories. By the end of a major or minor a student should have achieved substantial growth in all of the categories.
- Reasoning skills: logical argument and abstraction.
- Formulation skills: developing mathematical models.
- Communication skills: expressing mathematical ideas and information clearly and precisely on paper, orally, and electronically.
- Comprehension skills: absorbing mathematical ideas and information presented on paper, orally, and electronically.
- Computation skills: mental, by hand, and by machine, as appropriate.
- Collaboration skills: working effectively with others in the application of all of the skills listed above.
General objectives for all students in mathematics and statistics courses
- In every course, we hope to deepen both students understanding of the subject and their appreciation for the beauty and utility of the subject.
- In every course, we hope to give students the ability to apply the methods and ideas of the course in other contexts: in later math courses, in courses in other disciplines which use the methods and ideas, and in non-course settings such as research or learning beyond school.
General objectives for majors in Mathematics and Statistics
- All majors should exhibit familiarity and competency in the basic curriculum for the first two years: single and multi-variable calculus and lineal algebra.
- Mathematics majors should exhibit familiarity and competency in our core for majors: analysis and algebra.
- Majors with an emphasis in statistics should exhibit familiarity and competency in the alternate core: analysis and mathematical statistics.
- All majors should extend the range of their familiarity and competency to fields covered in one or more advanced electives.
- Majors should be able to use what they have learned in their classes to learn new mathematics on their own.
- Majors should be able to write mathematics with clarity and precision, including both general exposition and carefully presented mathematical argumentation, including rigorous proof.
- Majors should be able to present mathematical material orally, again including both general exposition and carefully presented mathematical argumentation.
Our program has a large and vibrant community of students engaged in music in various ways. Through performance, study. and regular concert-going, these music citizens should emerge with a deeper appreciation of musical aesthetics and understand music as an essential aspect of culture and humanity, to be treasured and nourished at all levels of society. This might be more simply understood as musical engagement in the broadest sense.
- To foster an understanding of music within the context of the liberal arts, built on a foundation of the student’s aesthetic, cultural and intellectual intuitions.
- To give students the tools to engage actively and critically with music and dance of varying genres.
- Majors: We also expect music majors to develop appreciation and insight into at least one non-European tradition such as Jazz, African drumming, or Indonesian Gamelan.
- Majors: We also expect music majors to explore ethnographic field methods and oral histories in Music and Dance.
- Majors should be able to identify some important dance genres.
- To teach students the foundational vocabulary of musical form, structure, and history with which they can fluently contextualize, analyze, and discuss musical works, analytical writings, and music-historical literature.
- Students in the first year of our program:
- We expect all students enrolled in the first year of music theory to compose a work in late 18th-century style in a standard form (e.g., Minuet & Trio, Rondo, or Sonata Form) that modulates between several closely related keys. We also expect them to become familiar with standard song form (AABA) and the twelve-bar blues.
- We require all students enrolled in the first year of theory to have concurrent musicianship training in sight-singing melodies with scale degrees, performing and conducting rhythms, hearing vertically and horizontally through melodic and harmonic dictation, and playing harmonic progressions and simple figured bass at the piano.
- We expect students enrolled in the music program's entry-level courses to be able to write and speak coherently and eloquently about music. Specifically, students should be able to find the key points of an article or primary source and be able to discuss them orally or in a written response.
- Students in upper level courses:
- We expect students enrolled in the second year of music theory to develop facility writing and analyzing chromatic harmony.
- We require all students enrolled in the second year of theory to have concurrent musicianship training in singing modulatory and chromatic melodies, hearing and singing intervals in tonal and atonal contexts, composing bass lines to chromatic melodies, taking complex harmonic dictation, playing progressions and figured bass with seventh chords, and conducting challenging rhythmic passages.
- We expect students taking upper-level history courses to engage in historical research projects in which they identify a thesis statement, develop a research plan, search for materials, and write up their findings using proper disciplinary citations.
- We expect music majors to have keyboard skills proficient enough to perform a two-part Invention of J.S. Bach (or another work of similar difficulty) by their senior year.
- Students in the first year of our program:
- To help students attain assuredness (if not mastery) in performance skills by participating first and foremost in Departmental Ensembles, and embracing opportunities to collaborate with other students in chamber music and dance and theater projects.
- To encourage our students to engage with the world outside of Swarthmore through music, including initiatives such as the Chester Children’s Gamelan Project, Chester Children’s Chorus, or Play on, Philly.
- To integrate the primary goals of I-IV in a comprehensive exam for majors. The comprehensive exam gives students the opportunity to integrate performance, analysis, writing and research and demonstrate competency in all. The exam must include a performance of a musical work and a confident oral presentation of the student's semester-long research and analysis of that work before an audience of professors and peers.
Department of Philosophy: Goals and Objectives for Student Learning
Philosophy is a crucial part of any Liberal Arts education. It deals with basic questions (What are the principles of morality, if any? What can we know and how? What is special, if anything, about humans? Do we have free will? How is the mind related to the body?). The attempt to reach a clearer understanding of such issues, to think about them critically and independently, and to weigh different reasons for and against a given claim are at the core of philosophical activity. Skill in addressing these questions has some very concrete uses in everyday life. For instance: Can one have a healthy democracy without the kind of critical thinking about important questions (e.g.: Can there be a just war?) that philosophy encourages? On a more individual level: Is the unexamined life worth living? If there are good reasons for examining one's own life, then Philosophy is the first address.
There are goals of the curriculum, goals for the Major and for the Minor, and more specific goals for specific courses as well as for specific kinds of students. All of them are informed by the general points indicated above. The following more specific remarks should be taken in the light of the above more general remarks.
Goals for the curriculum
We envisage the goals for the Philosophy curriculum in two ways.
First, we seek to engage students in the activities of philosophical thinking. Students should
- develop a (better) understanding of philosophical questions and problems;
- learn how to clarify a question or claim and how to think independently and creatively about the issue ("Make up your own mind — it's the only one you've got!");
- learn how to come up with their own questions and topics, views and arguments;
- learn to distinguish between good arguments and fallacies and also how to think of arguments for and against a given claim and weigh them against each other.
Second, since Philosophy is a systematic subject with a history and since the history is (in contrast to the natural sciences, for instance) crucial to our current understanding, students should also gain some understanding of this historical dimension.
Philosophy deals with fundamental and important questions, problems and issues (see above) in a way that cannot be replaced by non-philosophical ways of inquiry. Philosophers engage critically with texts from the history of philosophy because these texts present the most systematic, powerful, and influential accounts of norms and commitments together with the most fully articulated arguments for them. In studying the texts in the history of philosophy, students learn about the development of philosophical problems in their context: as responses, revisions, and ruptures from the work that came before them. Engaging critically with the best arguments is itself a central part of developing one's own views.
We aim at helping students to improve several skills:
- to listen and understand what others are saying in a discussion;
- to respond to it in an intelligible and constructive way;
- to become (better) intellectual team-workers;
- to closely read complicated and difficult texts,
- to interpret a text both critically and charitably, reconstruct a claim or an argument;
- to write in a clear, intelligible and reasonable way.
Apart from all that, we also aim to encourage students and help them to start
- doing their own research on a given topic (how to use the library, the web, etc.).
Not all of this has to happen in the class room: Some of our courses are Writing Courses (most of our introductory courses are). The recent initiative of a Speaking Program is a very good idea and a resource that we may be able to utilize in the future. Giving the students the chance to rewrite their essays is also an important aspect. Few students take us up on this offer but those who do seem to benefit greatly from it (writing without rewriting is usually both empty and blind). Directed Readings and other kinds of 1-1 teaching (or 1-few) are also of crucial importance here.
Goals for the Major and for the Minor
We want our Majors to develop a comprehensive grasp of the discipline, including work in the sub-areas that define our distribution requirements: Theoretical Philosophy, Value Theory, and the History of Philosophy.
Apart from breadth, depth (deeper understanding of focal areas) is important, too. We aim to prepare our Graduating Majors, if they do well and if they so choose, to go on to Graduate School either in Philosophy or some related field.
Minors are able to explore one or two sub-areas in depth, without necessarily doing work in all three areas. We want our Minors to be able to supplement their primary course of study with relevant courses in Philosophy.
Goals for specific courses
(see the specific course descriptions in the bulletin and on our departmental webpage)
Goals for specific groups of students
Some of our students are so excellent that one might wonder whether there is anything we can do for them except giving a hint here and there and not standing in the way. Other students are on the other side of the spectrum and in these cases motivational and other issues are so serious that it is not clear again what exactly our impact on them can be; we have to take them case by case and see what we can do. The students in between are in some way the most interesting ones, especially if they realize that they can improve if they invest themselves into the work. Encouraging these students in particular to rewrite essays goes a long way.
And then there are the students who just take one philosophy course. The same aims hold for them. It's only that we calibrate them differently. It is already something to get a student who is taking a Philosophy course just for the HU credit and because it is convenient with respect to their schedule to discover how interesting Philosophy is.
Learning Goals for Physics and Astronomy majors at Swarthmore College
Top-level Goals for Major Program
- Students will show mastery of the physics and astronomy content goals enumerated in the individual course syllabi for the required courses for the major. Students will be able to solve homework and especially exam problems related to particular physical laws or principles, e.g. Gauss's law or conservation laws.
- Students will gain an understanding of the nature and breadth of contemporary open questions in physics and/or astronomy.
- Students will experience the scientific process, and the nature of the interplay of theory and experiment, in contemporary physics and astronomy. One way that students can gain this experience is by doing research.
- Students will develop and exhibit the learning, problem-solving, communication, and laboratory skills enumerated below.
- Problem-solving skills:
A student should be able to . . .
- translate a physical description into a mathematical equation, and conversely, explain the physical meaning of the mathematics.
- represent the key elements of a physical situation with a sketch.
- choose, apply, and justify appropriate problem-solving techniques in novel contexts. For all students these techniques include approximations and symmetries, and as students advance, their techniques will come to include series expansions, multivariable integration, differential equations, and linear algebra.
- articulate expectations for, and justify reasonableness of, problem solutions, including both dimensional analysis and numerical values.
- devise an algorithm for solving a problem numerically, and translate that algorithm into a working computer program.
- Learning skills:
A student should be able to . . .
- articulate the fundamental ideas from each chapter, section, and/or lecture.
- see the physical relationships in the course as both coherent and broadly applicable, evidenced by being able to use these physical relationships to solve a range of problems, including ones in novel contexts.
- demonstrate awareness of what he/she doesn't understand, evidenced by asking sophisticated, specific questions, articulating where they experience difficulty, and taking actions to move beyond that difficulty.
- work productively in a group to solve problems, including asking questions and giving constructive feedback to others.
- build on the material learned in earlier courses on the same topics and make connections to material on nominally different topics.
- Communication skills:
A student should be able to . . .
- write clearly and persuasively about an experiment, calculation, or observation, following the conventions of scientific writing.
- design and give a clear presentation, with a well-supported argument, aimed at the appropriate level for a variety of different audiences.
- effectively and supportively critique their own and other students' arguments and presentations.
- Laboratory skills
A student should be able to . . .
- explain the connection between a measurement of a natural phenomenon and the experimental apparatus and tasks of a laboratory exercise. The explanation will exhibit an understanding of the theory behind the experiment, an understanding of the experimental equipment, and an assessment of the accuracy of the technique.
- devise a strategy for analyzing quantitative data to obtain a desired result, including characterizing the precision, accuracy, and robustness of the result (i.e. understanding how sensitive the results are to various types of errors, both measurement and fitting errors, and identifying the appropriate way to fit the data that takes error into account).
- troubleshoot an experiment, i.e., identify the sources of something producing an unexpected result or not working at all.
- use a software environment (Mathematica, MATLAB, etc.) to do fairly sophisticated numerical calculations and/or data analysis, as well as graphing and fitting data.
- analyze experimental data to determine best-fit parameters and reasonable error estimates on those parameters from the data, and be able to judge whether or not a given relation is an acceptable fit to the data given the uncertainties.
- reflect on results of an experiment and discuss whether the experiment was successful.