Sociology respond to the imposition of a ‘Connected Curriculum’

The Senior Management Team (SMT) of Goldsmiths—comprised of 9 members of staff (3 interim; 1 permanent staff member about to leave)—is seeking to impose an unpopular ‘Connected Curriculum’ that is univserally derided by staff across departments. SMT continue to use forms of “consultation” that ask individuals and departments to provide “feedback” along extremely narrowly confined lines and in extremely short timeframes. The content of feedback is completely ignored where it is not aligned with SMT’s proposals, which SMT treat as a fait comppli. While we cannot pubislish the proposal, the Department of Sociology would like to at least present and open its feedback to scruitiny publically.

Below are the answers that the Department of Sociology has provided to the SMT proposal for a so-called ‘Connected Curriculum’, which attempts to make the equivalent of 3 of modules (45 credits) mandatory for all undergraduate students (except those subject to exemption, such as in Law). As is typical of the approach taken by Senior Management, this proposal centralises ideas that are seemingly in the spirit of Goldsmiths’ community, such as “social justice” and “social change”, to justify top-down administrative change guided by anti-intellectual goals that belittle the complexity of the world. This new imposition requires students to exchange the equivalent of 3 modules’ field or disciplinary specific content for “one-size-fits all”, convened by module leaders that (by necessity, for reason of numbers alone) will be one step further removed from the day to day activities of teaching and learning. This promises to undermine students’ access to the intellectual engagement provided by Goldsmiths existing close-knit epistemic communities, so central to our capacity to offer a critical, intellectual and innovative response to the complexity of the world.

In good faith, several members of the Sociology Department have participated in Connected Curriculum working groups. However, their participation in these discussions should in no way be equated with endorsement of the current proposals. 

(1) Goldsmiths 101: Learning, Society and Environment (level 4)

Please provide comments on the academic content of the module

Preface: request for feedback was received on Thursday 11/02, one working day in advance of a strike week (commencing 14/02), with a deadline during the strike. In the very short time available, I have consulted with members of my DMT and of a broad working group set up specifically to engage with CCR and CC. The feedback submitted here is a synthesis of feedbak from that consultation.

Colleagues have unanimously expressed deep criticism of the academic content of the Goldsmiths 101 module. In general terms,

“…the proposal has been produced out of sheer ignorance. Firstly, ignorance about the social sciences and humanities taught by us.  […]  I feel confident in stating that this would apply to many although not all other departments.  Secondly, there is a blatant and appalling ignorance about students and their life experience and plurality of interests and concerns.  In all, it reads to me as a course in ‘personal development’ and this is underscored by the idea that assessment should involve students saying how they have been changed by the course.”

In terms of academic content, the ‘personal development’ dimension of the course is deeply problematic from the perspective of much of what we research and teach in Sociology. An example of this is the uncritical endorsement of neuroscientific and positive psychology discourses in addressing “how we learn” (weeks 3 and 4).  The bibliography for this module includes Will Davies’ The Happiness Industry, but there is no evidence that the content of this book has been understood or engaged with for the purpose of designing this module.

As can be seen from this example, the approach adopted in the module undermines research-led teaching not (just) in the sense that it reduces the number of credits available for research-led teaching, but also in terms of consolidating mainstream/normative ways of thinking that our research-led curriculum is designed to teach students to critically interrogate. In this sense, colleagues felt that the superficiality of the approach as a whole is actually counter-educational.

“The Year 1 Term 2 proposal is staggering: it attempts to cover social inequality, health, globalisation, technology and ‘racial equality’ all in 10 weeks; each week’s topic could be an entire module in itself (and indeed many of these are actually entire modules on our programmes). […]  I think it’s pretty clear that social scientists have not been involved in the development of these plans. […] This will not work.”

Please provide comments on the module design EG. delivery, assessment, personal tutoring and learning resources

The Department supports College investment in students developing academic skills. There is also general support for embedding personal tutoring as a timetabled activity, but mixed opinions on whether this should be credit-bearing. Collegues agree that it is difficult or impossible to separate the pastoral and academic aspects of personal tutoring, particularly in the context of a programme designed around personal development. The following feedback from one colleague offers a good illustration and summary of the concerns expressed around this by staff:

“I like the idea of timetabling personal tutoring to raise its significance for students and staff. It can be so valuable, especially for students who are first generation. This document seems to differ in how it understands personal tutoring. It is not possible to separate pastoral aspects of personal tutoring as the two are often profoundly intertwined.

I understand personal tutoring as a relationship that develops over years, building mutual trust and understanding to support students’ learning. Students often bring me their concerns about having a criminal record, their personal experiences of having been in jail, or being victims of sexual violence. Often these experiences have brought them to University and drive their intellectual curiosity.

There is a real contradiction in gaining students’ trust and in making these conversations credit bearing and/or documenting their content. For example, students may wish not to document experience of sexual violence in assessed work and asking them to do may be re-traumatising.

Suggestion – students should be timetabled 2 individual personal tutoring sessions per term with their personal tutor but it should not be credit bearing.”

Further concerns were expressed around the emphasis on personal development from a delivery point of view:

“I also doubt this personal development-y approach is very effective with 18-21 year olds – I used to moonlight at LBS doing leadership development coaching […] and while those with work and life experience might take something from such approaches working with the UG cohorts there was excruciating, and I think a waste of everyone’s time.” 

How could this module be improved?

[no answer]

Please comment on this module with regards to our mission to promote equality, diversity and inclusion?

Please see comments on personal tutoring (above) about the fact that many of our students will have experiences that they might not wish to disclose, and that the emphasis on reflexivity and personal development may be inappropriate in this regard.

The emphasis in assessment on reflexive exercises and on demonstrating ‘how the learning has changed them’ (as opposed to demonstrating knowledge of a topic) was deeply criticised also for more general reasons. The view among colleagues was that the entire proposal is exclusionary and infantilising by being designed on the assumption that students are not already aware and engaged in negotiating complex situations at home and many at work.

Our experience from engaging with racialised students within ‘Pivot’ (the Department’s working group on anti-racism) is that some of them do not want to hear more – from us – about their suffering as racialised subjects.

(2) The Goldsmiths’ Social Change Module (level 5)

Please provide comments on the academic content of the module

Comments on this module echoed the general feedback provided for Goldsmiths 101 (see previous section). Specifically in relation to this module, colleagues who are highly experienced in problem-based teaching in Sociology have commented as follows:

” […] the worst aspect [of the module] is that it assumes that ‘social change’ can be had without research, and research can be had without methods and theory. ‘Social change’ here is basically reduced to creating for 5 weeks a list of the most obvious problems the world has to then attempt to solve them in the remaining 5 weeks. It is fundamentally anti-intellectual. A university is not a school to train people to become activists. Those who are already activists, do not need 5 weeks to identify a problem. A University is a place where we should train people, some of them who want to become activists, to find out why problems are hard to solve. This requires research. Research is all but absent from the Social Change project.

The complete absence of any idea of research is visible in the description of what happens from week 7 onwards, which is basically nothing (please read that paragraph slowly). The assumption here is that year two students will be able to figure this out by themselves, and do a project in 4 weeks, after having thought about what to do for 6 weeks.

[…] If you were interested in an actual model project, then see here:

Note that this course is a) elective, b) runs over 3 terms of 14 weeks each c) is based on 4 hours of seminars plus two hours lectures per week and finally, is based on real case studies with actual actors, who then are involved in judging  (and in some instances, actually turning into practice) the projects of students.  This takes social and environmental change seriously, and does not turn it into sloganeering, but into something where students realise and understand the contradiction and complexities of the world. If Goldsmiths were serious, they would attempt something like it, and I would be the first fan.”

And, from another colleague:

“6500 ‘change makers’ released into the local community and beyond is unethical and highly problematic, most voluntary sector projects of this type die a death and are meaningless. It reminds me of David Cameron’s National Citizenship Service for 16-17 year olds (nationalist rubbish, dubious in its stated outcomes) but also a ridiculous attempt by universities to be like VSO or Peace Corps etc etc… “

Please provide comments on the module design EG. delivery, assessment, personal tutoring and learning resources

“… what I find particularly appalling, because I have been teaching my whole life in the spirit of it, is the Social Change project.  […] the idea that this would work in year 2 within ten weeks is nonsense. Most importantly, it won’t work because ridiculously, of these ten weeks, the first five weeks are wasted with students ‘discovering’ what they want to do. I can say from having taught like this year three students, that this won’t work.

The best bit is this one: ‘In week 6, students in each stream will come together for a 4 hour in-person workshop. This workshop will introduce the stream and provide an opportunity for students in each tutorial group (approx. 30 students per group) to meet one another. In these sessions, students will also be divided into the project groups (approx. 5 students per group). During this session, the small student groups (groups of 5) will be asked to define the focus of their project and chosen output, assign roles, and develop a plan.’

If you are at week 6, out of 10, and you a) do not have a plan what to do, and b) assume that students in groups of 30 will be able to split into groups of 5 and then “assign roles and develop a plan”, you must be utterly clueless. If you then think that within the remaining 4 weeks those groups manage to actually do the work, then you believe in miracles. When you believe the slogan ‘iterate, iterate, iterate’ can be applied to this process, you do not understand the word ‘iterate’.”

How could this module be improved?

[no answer]

Please comment on this module with regards to our mission to promote equality, diversity and inclusion?

See comment above (under question 6) for colleagues’ views on the unethical nature of the project.

2 responses to “Sociology respond to the imposition of a ‘Connected Curriculum’”

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