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Overview of Previous Discussions by the MSP Community on Challenging Courses and Curricula at the NRC April Workshop and on MSPnet


There has been a lengthy discussion of Challenging Courses and Curricula (CCC) on MSPnet since January, 2005. A paper authored by Iris Weiss provided an overview from a discussion during the January 2005 MSP Learning Network Conference in Washington, DC. (View this paper in the MSPnet Library) That paper sparked the early discussion and is attached to this summary. Iris endeavored to address the definitional issues of CCC, but most discussants were concerned that the paper did not focus sufficiently on the role of pedagogy in CCCs.

In a February 24, 2005 posting on MSPnet, Joni Falk, co-PI of MSPNet, summarized that early discussion. It noted that the early dialogue (47 postings) had both depth and breadth, moving into the related topics of teacher education, teaching practices, and professional development. She felt the conversation had lost its focus on challenging courses and so restarted 4 new discussions. Iris Weiss then drafted a new paper, including pedagogical considerations, (View this paper in the MSPnet Library) and Jay Labov (co-PI for the NRC workshop series) and others encouraged discussants to work toward an "operational definition."

The first of our two workshops on CCCs was held in April 2005. Both of Iris Weiss's papers were discussed and participants continued to work toward the goal of articulating an operational definition.

Considering both the April workshop and the MSPnet discussions, there seems to be considerable support for a number of general principles, including:

  • Courses for ALL students should be appropriately challenging.

  • "Challenging" does not refer primarily to the quantity of work.

  • "Challenging" has to do with pedagogy as well as with content -- students must be ENGAGED and UNDERSTAND, not just develop procedural skills.

  • Appropriate assessment is an essential component.

Discussions at the September workshop will build upon these general principles while also focusing on how they might be applied to teacher education programs (both pre- and in-service). We welcome new or alternate ideas.