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Workshop on the Liberal Arts in Higher Education

August 19-20, 2017 @ The Ismaili Centre, Dubai, UAE

Day 2: Sunday, 20 August 2017


A strategy to develop an undergraduate liberal arts curriculum

This protocol is based on the book Empowering Students to Improve the World in Sixty Lessons by Reimers et. al. Participants will discuss the 13-step protocol (see below) established to define, assess, and overcome common pitfalls in liberal arts education. In small groups, they will then discuss how to advance within each of the 13 steps in relationship to the specific needs and realities of their respective institutions. The goal of the following discussions will be to create a clear execution strategy for each member institution, where each team knows what policies to initiate.

9:00 AM–6:00 PM—Discussions

There will be breaks for lunch and coffee, which are covered through the registration fee. Approximate times are as follows: 1:15–2:30 PM—Lunch 3:45–4:30 PM—Coffee Break

The following thirteen steps are intended to help a college or university create a culture that is supportive of a liberal arts undergraduate curriculum. These steps provide a guide to get organized to deliver an ambitious and rigorous liberal arts undergraduate education. This guide is designed to be used to support the development of a strategy, that is, an action plan to advance ambitious educational efforts. On Day 2 of the Workshop, we expect that the participants will work in small teams through Steps 1-4. Below, we give you information about all 13 steps but urge you to focus on the first four. The thirteen steps are:

  1. Establish a leadership team. This team will form the guiding coalition to design and manage the implementation of the liberal arts education strategy.
  2. Develop a long term vision. What are the long term outcomes for students, for the school, and for the communities that these graduates will influence that inspire this liberal education effort?
  3. Develop a framework of knowledge, skills and dispositions for graduates of the institution that is aligned with the long term vision.
  4. Audit the existing undergraduate curriculum in light of the proposed long term vision.
  5. Design a prototype to better align the existing curriculum to the competencies framework in step 3.
  6. Communicate vision, framework and prototype to the extended community in the school, seek feedback and iterate.
  7. Decide on a revised prototype to be implemented and develop an implementation plan to execute the liberal arts education prototype.
  8. Identify resources necessary and available to implement the liberal arts education prototype.
  9. Develop a framework to monitor implementation of the prototype and obtain formative feedback.
  10. Develop a communication strategy to build and maintain support from key stakeholders.
  11. Develop a professional development strategy for faculty and administrative staff.
  12. Execute the prototype with oversight and support of the leadership team.
  13. Evaluate the execution of the prototype, adjust as necessary, and go back to step 4.


Day Two Activities


Step 1. Establish a leadership team. At the Workshop on Day 2, each team will imagine how to form an eventual guiding coalition to design and manage the implementation of the liberal arts education strategy.

Getting the right people on this guiding coalition is critical for the success of an ambitious program of liberal arts education. Our Day 2 teams should seek to represent broadly the various key constituencies in the university, and of various departments. This team will make the first attempt to become the architect of the global strategy, aligning a long term vision of success with specific learning outcomes, and with learning opportunities designed to support students in developing competencies. Each Day 2 team will focus on the strategy, how to monitor its execution, how to troubleshoot regarding its implementation in real time, identify necessary support, secure resources and lead the necessary revisions and course-corrections. Each team will construct and role-model a learning mindset, supporting the development of an institutional culture that is aligned with the long term vision of success.

Step 2. Develop a long term vision. What are the long term outcomes for students, for the institution and for the communities that these graduates will influence that inspire this effort?

Write down a long term vision that inspires the liberal education effort in your institution.

Step 3. Develop a framework of competencies, knowledge, skills and dispositions for graduates of the institution that is aligned with the long term vision from step 2. Examine alignment between those competencies and expected long term goals.

Select a specific group of skills, competencies, knowledge, dispositions, that represent a graduate of the institution, to be used to map the curriculum. Examine each of the long term goals against the specific capacities that you seek to help graduates develop. Are they necessary and sufficient? If necessary, revise the expected capacities, going back and forth between them and the long term goals. Among other competencies, consider intercultural competency, ethical orientation, knowledge and skills, and work and mind habits:

  1. Intercultural competency

This includes the ability to interact successfully with people from different cultural identities and origins. It encompasses interpersonal skills as well as intrapersonal skills and ways to govern oneself in the face of cultural differences.

  • Interpersonal Skills:
    • Work productively in and effectively lead intercultural teams, including teams distributed in various geographies through the use of telecommunication technologies.
    • Demonstrate empathy toward other people from different cultural origins.
    • Demonstrate courtesy and norms of interaction appropriate to various cultural settings.
    • Resolve culturally based disagreements through negotiation, mediation, and conflict resolution.
  • Intrapersonal Skills:
    • Curiosity about global affairs and world cultures
    • The ability to recognize and weigh diverse cultural perspectives
    • An understanding of one’s own identity, of others’ identities, of how other cultures shape their own and others’ identities, and of where one is in space and time
    • The ability to recognize and examine assumptions when engaging with cultural differences
    • The recognition of cultural (civilizational, religious, or ethnic) prejudice and the ability to minimize its effects in intergroup dynamics
    • An understanding and appreciation of cultural variation in basic norms of interaction, the ability to be courteous, and the ability to find and learn about norms appropriate in specific settings and types of interaction
  1. Ethical orientation
  • Appreciation of ethical frameworks in diverse religious systems
  • Commitment to basic equality of all people
  • Recognition of common values and common humanity across civilizational streams
  • Appreciation of the potential of every person regardless of socioeconomic circumstances or cultural origin
  • Appreciation of the role of global compacts in guiding global governance
  • Commitment to supporting universal rights, reducing global poverty, promoting peace, and promoting sustainable forms of human-environmental interaction
  • Ability to interact with people from diverse cultural backgrounds while demonstrating humility, respect, reciprocity, and integrity
  • An understanding of the role of trust in sustaining human interaction as well as global institutions and recognition of forms of breakdowns in trust and institutional corruption and its causes.
  1. Knowledge and skills

In addition to highlighting the cosmopolitan links infused in the curriculum, a liberal arts education curriculum should provide students with the knowledge and skills necessary to understand the world in which they will live. These include culture, religion, history and geography, politics and government, economics, science, mathematics and its applications, technology and innovation, public health, and demography.

  • Culture, religion, and history and geography, with attention to the effect of globalization on cultural change
    • The study of religions as powerful institutions organizing human activity, including world religions, their histories, and points of contacts over time
    • Major philosophical traditions and points of connection
    • Historical knowledge, which includes various perspectives and an understanding of the role of ordinary citizens in history
    • World geography, including the different areas of the world, what unites them, what differences exist, and how humans have changed the geography of the planet
    • Performing and visual arts (e.g., theater, dance, music, visual arts, etc.) as a means to find our common humanity, understand different arts, and become able to see connections
    • Ability to view art as expression, to use art for expression, and to understand globalization and art
    • Literature from our language and culture, from other languages (in translation) and cultures, seeking to enhance our capacity to read as adult persons operating with a wide cultural and intellectual framework
  • Politics and government:
    • Comparative government and how governments work in different societies
    • Major international institutions and their role in shaping global affairs
    • Contemporary global challenges in human-environmental interaction
    • Sources of these challenges, options to address them, and the role of global institutions in addressing these challenges
    • History of contemporary global conflicts and the role of global institutions in addressing these challenges
  • Economics, business, and entrepreneurship:
    • Theories of economic development and how they explain the various stages in economic development of nations, poverty, and inequality
    • Institutions that regulate global trade and work to promote international development
    • Contemporary scholarship on the effectiveness and limitations of those institutions
    • The impact of global trade
    • The consequences of global poverty and the agency of the poor
    • The demography and factors influencing demographic trends and their implications for global change
  • Science, technology and innovation, and their globalization
  • Mathematics, statistics, and their applications in the physical, biological, and social sciences
  • Public Health, population, and demography
  1. Work and mind habits
  • Demonstrate innovation and creativity in contributing to formulating solutions to challenges and to seizing opportunities; seek and identify best practices; and transfer them across linguistic, cultural, geographic, disciplinary, and professional contexts
  • Identify different cultural perspectives through which to think about problems
  • Understand the process of cultural change and that there is individual variation within cultural groups
  • Carry out research projects independently
  • Present results of independent research in writing, orally, and using media
  • Learn to listen and respect the ideas of others and take them into account

Step 4. Audit existing curriculum and programs in light of the proposed long term vision and competencies framework.

Using the framework of expected competencies for graduates, identify where in the curriculum –broadly construed, to include curricular, co-curricular and extracurricular activities—are there at present opportunities for students to develop such capacities. The goal of this activity is to identify what elements of a strategy of liberal arts education are already in place in the institution and can be built upon, and also to identify existing gaps and areas of opportunity to increase the coherence and synergies between the opportunities already available. This exercise should clearly identify whether there are opportunities to gain such capacities, and whether the same opportunities are available to all students or only to a subset of the students. Are they requirements or electives?  



The Ismaili Centre Social Hall
Dubai, United Arab Emirates