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Core Camp jump-starts Core Program planning

By Sally Jongsma

Professors and students are both working their way through new core courses this fall. But students often don’t realize the amount of work that goes into preparing and even revising such courses.

Like every other Dordt College professor, Computer Science Professor Nick Breems is responsible for helping students think about who they are, how they are called to live, and how they relate to God's creation.

Like every other Dordt College professor, Computer Science Professor Nick Breems is responsible for helping students think about who they are, how they are called to live, and how they relate to God's creation.

Many of the faculty who are teaching these new courses spent three days together in May to coordinate their efforts so they could get a better sense of what each of them was doing and so they could make the core curriculum a more integrated program.

“We wrestled deeply with a biblical, reformational understanding of the key themes that underlie our curriculum, asking who we are, how we are called to live, and how we relate to God’s creation,” says Core Program Director Hubert Krygsman.

“I had no idea that this is what faculty did during their summers, and that they actually debated and were so passionate about these issues. It was great. I learned a lot,” said a student observer at the workshop.

The Core Camp, as it was called, raised many questions and didn’t result in all concrete answers, but some faculty described it as “what we need to spend more time on.”

Van Soelen

Van Soelen

Education Professor Timothy Van Soelen described the workshop as an intellectually stimulating experience that helped him better understand what the CORE program is intended to accomplish within the Framework and Educational Task of Dordt College. “Specifically, Core Camp helped me to shape and mold the role Educational Psychology (my CORE course) plays in helping students understand the communal character of Christian life, being made in the image of God, and our response within the contexts of school, teaching, and learning.”

The workshop was intended to do just that—jump-start summer preparation for faculty teaching the new and revised core courses that will meet new core program requirements adopted last year. The camp gave faculty some time to further develop those proposals, but, more importantly, it gave them time to think about how to better express the key themes that underlie the curriculum in their own courses. It also provided time for members in a department to think together and provided time for all to share effective teaching strategies for communicating these ideas.

Krygsman

Krygsman

“Discussions were wide-ranging, covering topics that are important to who we are as a Christian institution,” says Krygsman. Participants asked themselves: What do we mean by image of God? What does it mean to teach Christianly? What are our expectations of faculty and students at this Christian institution?

“When we talked about these ideas, it was obvious that we come at them differently,” says Krygsman. “Image of God” for some people has a more psychological quality. For some it carries a sense that humans as image bearers have abused their role of having dominion over creation; for some it is described as carrying out the cultural mandate of developing God’s rule in creation.

“It’s important to hear different views to see that there are many dimensions to every topic and that teaching, even in our discipline courses, must reflect the complexity of creation,” says Krygsman. “We have a tendency to live in disciplinary boxes, thinking and reading in a specialized way. Broader discussions help faculty see that disciplines are abstractions that serve a purpose, but real life isn’t carved into abstractions.”

A second goal of the workshop was to find good ways to build assessment into the courses. Discussions included asking such questions as how to assess in a way that reflects Dordt’s priorities and vision, how assessment respects students as image-bearers of God, and to what extent assessment reflects student satisfaction or regurgitation and to what extent it reflects growth and development.

The camp accomplished its goals, but it also did more: it built community among participants. The three days gave an opportunity for newer faculty to think through ideas with others who have been here longer; it allowed faculty with different expertise to exchange ideas; and it gave those with contrasting views an opportunity to communicate passionately, knowing they were committed to the same goals.

With the semester in full swing, opportunities to carry on these discussions are sometimes hard to find, but the Core Program committee intends to find ways to do so. They expect to hold similar Core Camps in the future, pulling other faculty, administrators, and student services staff into these discussions as they continue to find new ways to offer a rich and integrated curricular program. Possibilities include planning faculty-wide discussions on themes such as “How do we live as and teach to image-bearers?” “How do we use the Bible across the disciplines?” “How do we understand the inter-relationships between humans and creation?” Departments could also lead conversations on such topics as “What biblical insight do we offer in bio-chemistry—or sport or music or digital media?” “How do we teach business for justice and stewardship?” or “Why does teaching a Christian approach to history matter to other programs?”

Whatever lies ahead, most participants agree with Dr. Robb De Haan, who teaches environmental studies, that the cross-disciplinary interaction was spirited, healthy, and insightful.