The University of Nevada, Reno’s current academic curriculum hasn’t seen much change since its initiation in 1989. Students starting their undergraduate careers at UNR in fall 2016 can anticipate aligning their schedules with the new Silver Core requirements.
Transfer students and those on track to graduate after fall 2016 can switch to the new curriculum or keep their old requirements.
Rather than overhauling the entire system, administration set up a task force to dig through the ins and outs of the current curriculum over five years ago to search for areas in need of improvement. Plans to implement the system in 2016 were presented by the university’s Core Curriculum board in 2014.
Core Director Elliot Parker is in charge of making sure the new program is implemented smoothly, but making what Parker calls a “hybrid system” function properly has proven to be a challenge.
“We haven’t really kept up with the times,” Parker said. “One of the big issues is the fact that a lot of the courses that were part of our core … once they got in we never really looked at them very hard to decide if they should stay in. You would have syllabus drift, that is, you had a course that changed over time and wasn’t covering what it once said it would.”
The university never developed an efficient system or mechanism to measure if a course was or is sticking true to the purpose behind its original implementation. Silver Core is designed to change that.
Through the new curriculum, assessment of courses and their content takes first priority. According to Parker, the purpose of Silver Core shows a shift in administration objectives. It represents a desire to analyze if a class is teaching the material that needs to be taught, in accordance with the university’s values, rather than just satisfying students’ credit needs.
“A lot of universities across the country are moving toward doing a better job of assessing,” Parker said. “Now we already assess, we already give students grades. The problem is the grades we give students [are] not an independent, objective measure of what they’ve learned; it’s a measure of how hard we think they’ve worked.”
Colleges, which each gain accreditation through independent agencies and organizations, also have different levels of assessment. Simply put, different colleges assess differently, some better than others. That accreditation is important for colleges. The better their assessment of classes, the more efficiently administration and faculty can improve the department or schools that need changes. This also makes the accreditation appear more credible.
Silver Core is a way to accurately feed the scholastic needs of the students based on 14 polished Silver Core Objectives also known as the Silver Plan. The general requirements have been divided into four “silver veins.” The administration has identified several categories through which it believes students can achieve a broad, well-rounded education.
Silver veins I and II can be compared to the core requirements that college students must fulfill based on national standards — things like core math, English, science and social science courses. Veins III and IV are specific to UNR and consist of higher-level courses like core capstones.
“The idea is trying to judge what students learn,” Parker said. “We still have to make it course-based; we haven’t been able to figure [that] out … we’re not ready to test the students on what they know per se, but at least we’re saying there’s a variety of ways, for example, that a student can learn about ethics.”
Flexibility is an important feature of the new curriculum. According to Parker, the requirements in place are too static and don’t allow for many changes. He and the administration hope to be able to adjust things at least every five years.
Through a redeveloped reporting system, the university plans to keep track of student progress in the Silver Core system, making sure that it meets each new core objective before graduation.
With the revamped curriculum, UNR hopes to mine into a shining pool of new opportunities and map out a path to a higher level of education for the university.
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