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Implementing CORE from the bottom up at The University of Warwick

By Tim Phillips | 25 Apr 2018

If you attend our CORE teaching workshop on 8 May, you’ll be sitting next to a team from The University of Warwick (one of its more striking buildings, above), ranked in the world’s top 30 in the QS world university rankings. It is planning to introduce CORE for its joint honours and PPE students“We already inform some of our teaching with material from The Economy,” says Robin Naylor (right), director of studies for Warwick’s department of economics, “and we think this group of students in particular will benefit from CORE’s approach.”

Changing the curriculum at Warwick is a major undertaking, and much more complex than changing a reading list. The economics department does not follow a conventional three-year structure in its undergraduate degrees. Instead it takes advantage of the quality of its intake to incorporate its introductory, intermediate and advanced courses into two years of study. In the third year, students take elective courses and write a dissertation.

Therefore, any changes to the introductory curriculum need to be carefully planned, because they have knock-on effects. For example, joint honours and single honours students take the same elective courses in year three, so they will need equivalent levels of skill and knowledge. There is no repetition of basic principles of micro and macro, and so any introductory course must teach all the skills the students will need in subsequent years.

That’s why, rather than seek to impose on colleagues what a new curriculum should be, Naylor is seeking volunteers to plan the change among teaching fellows and graduate teaching assistants (GTAs). Together, they will define how they would like to teach using The Economy. “I want to avoid the idea that this is a top-down project and that fellow teachers on the course are passive recipients,” he says, “together we will own and shape this.”

Implementation from the bottom up

The process will begin soon with a unit-by-unit reading group for these volunteers. Warwick’s model for introducing CORE will be “bottom up” both in the way it allocates teachers and teaching assistants, and also in how it will structure lectures, workshops and tutorials.

Because the group is self-selecting, it’s reasonable to assume that it will capture the current and future teachers who are motivated by innovation. So, many of its members will become the first teachers and GTAs for the course. “For example, we will need to find eight or nine GTAs who will be delivering workshops to our students. It will be more demanding for them than running workshops using the standard introductory text that they learnt as undergraduates. We want them to be able to have discussions with students, and do more than just go through problem sets,” Naylor explains.

The reading group plans to meet regularly over the summer to discuss how to teach each unit, the challenges and opportunities. This has benefits both to the teachers and the department, Naylor says. For teachers, it familiarises the people who will be delivering the module with the detailed differences between CORE and the syllabus they inherited. For the department, it provides reassurance that the change will cause the least disruption, and that integration with the existing course in year two has been thought through. This planning process will also include students, although the department hasn’t decided yet how that will happen.

Naylor says that the bottom-up approach builds skills and learning in a way that a top-down imposition of a new curriculum, however good its content, could not. “We want to do this in a collegial way,” he says, “The composition of this group will mostly be the younger members of the faculty and PhD students, and they are leading it. We are sure that the best way to introduce CORE is using horizontal teamwork and group learning.”