College of Letters and Sciences has 'Big Ideas' for undergraduate education

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SEPTEMBER 14, 2011

UC Berkeley students interested in exploring the world of educational possibilities will have another door open to them — the Big Ideas course program.

The program, to be launched in the 2012-13 academic year, will include courses that take a basic concept or question and analyze it through different disciplines, allowing students to examine varied approaches to a single situation. Six to seven Big Ideas courses will be offered within the next two years and will be designed for lower division students.

“I think the way these courses will help students is that the really important problems and the big questions facing us all require interdisciplinary approaches,” said Alix Schwartz, director of academic planning for the College of Letters and Sciences’ Undergraduate Division, in an email. “Students who can learn to think across disciplines will be much better prepared for the world of the present and the future.”

Each course will be taught by at least two faculty members from different departments.

The program will be similar to the Discovery Courses already taught in the College of Letters and Sciences, but these courses will be designed to fulfill at least two breadth requirements.

According to Mark Richards, Executive Dean of the college, a report on Big Ideas course proposals will be finalized within the next two weeks.

Richards said in an email announcement to campus faculty that the new program stems from “a strategic planning process to reform undergraduate education at Berkeley.”

Possible topics include “Disasters, as examined from the point of view of Earth and Planetary Science, Religious Studies, and Economics” and “Language and Mind, as explored by a team from Linguistics, Philosophy, History, or Psychology,” Richards said in the email.

The teams of professors selected to teach the courses will be granted around $10,000 per course. The funds for the first year of the program will come from the Discovery Courses budget — funded through the executive vice chancellor and provost — and donors to the college, according to Schwartz.

Students can expect these topics to be fun and intellectually stimulating, Schwartz said in the email.

Contact Geena Cova at 


SEPTEMBER 14, 2011