Silver and Blue Alternatives

The two alternative proposals, named the Silver proposal and the Blue proposal are our initial effort to provide general education plans that respond to the committee’s charge. Our goal over the next two months is to get responses from a broad spectrum of groups across campus that will allow us to revise these alternatives before presenting them to the campus at large in fall semester, 2012. We are planning a series of meetings where two members of the task force will meet with groups to explain the proposals, respond to comments, and record feedback.

You can review the Silver and Blue Alternatives, which includes the General Education Task Force background information.

We appreciate your willingness to review these two proposed alternatives and provide feedback and questions to the task force by usning the below reply.

The only personal information that will be viewable to others on this blog site is your name, if you wish to remain anonymous use the word ‘anonymous’ in place of your name on the below reply form.

31 comments

  1. Anonymous’s avatar

    1. I greatly appreciate the thought the General Education Task Force has put into the two proposals. Clearly, there has been an effort to seek what others around the country are doing and look at how we might make some useful changes.
    2. I strongly favor the silver proposal over the blue, primarily because the blue represents significant change without any obvious value added. For someone to convince me we should go with the blue proposal, they would need to explain why it would be significantly better than what we have now. I do not see the value added at present.
    3. In the blue proposal, am concerned about the distinction between natural science and social science that is offered, in that it almost suggests social science is not science, and that there should not be a focus on quantitative reasoning in social science. Of course, I can only speak for my discipline, economics, but EVERYTHING that is listed under the natural science and quantitative reasoning bullet describes economics, even at the principles level. Associating social science with globalization and natural science with quantitative reasoning, I think, sends a message I do not want sent. What I often tell students is that you might want to study economics if you like math but want to study people rather than things. Thus, I would say what separates natural science from social science is the topics of study more so than the methods, though methods do vary much more in the social science than natural sciences.
    4. While the blue proposal is obviously an attempt to change the core curriculum so the curriculum fits a set of outcomes rather than tailoring the outcomes to the set of courses we presume must be in the core, it is also clear that the blue proposal is tainted by the fact that it is known that the core curriculum must include particular courses, two natural science courses, for example. The reason I say this is that Social Science is conspicuously missing in the focused inquiry section. Why, in a society where our national debt, health care provision, and other such social issue will much more likely impact our students in the future than topics that might be covered in natural science or arts or humanities, would we not want students to have some focused study in social science? The answer probably is, we would like some focused study in social science, but given the parameters laid down by the regents, and issues like common course numbering and transfer agreements, we do not have room to put focused social science study in the blue alternative.
    5. Because the blue alternative is obviously being tweaked by the knowledge that we cannot deviate too far from what we have now, I believe it is better to toss out the blue alternative, and take many of the good intentions in the blue alternative and work them into the silver alternative as much as possible.

  2. Anonymous’s avatar

    While I appreciate the innovative impulse behind the Blue proposal, I do not see this as a well-conceived plan.

    The scope and sequence of this Blue curriculum are neither clear nor coherent. I can find little in the learning outcomes that clearly distinguishes “integrative foundation” courses from “focused inquiry.” The chief difference seems to be that the first group is a set of “freshman experience” courses that are supposed to “touch” on just about everything, and the second is a set of courses that will be “major” oriented. I am concerned about the impact of cramming all these “integrative foundation” courses into the freshman year (might it be better to take one of these EACH year?) and then following up with a math course and a writing course … whenever! I do not think this sequence will serve our student body well.

    The first three courses listed (“freshman/sophomore experience”) are meant to provide an Integrative Foundation,” but they appear to “throw together” rather than “integrate.” What is the reason for putting “social science reasoning,” “globalization,” and “oral communications skills” together in the same course? Is this simply a way to accommodate the items that got high scores on last year’s survey? Why is the development of “written and visual communications skills” a part of the “humanistic reasoning and creative arts” course but not a part of the others? (What is “humanistic reasoning,” anyway, and why is it paired with “creative arts”?)

    Likewise, throughout this plan, diversity appears everywhere…and nowhere. It is combined with Humanities in the second set of courses, but an “ethics” course may be taken instead. Why are diversity and ethics combined with the humanities but not with the courses in arts, natural science, or math?

    The student learning objectives (henceforth SLOs), especially of the Integrative Foundation courses, are sloppy. I understand that these things are hard to write, and I know that these plans are only drafts. But how can we (and our students) understand this curriculum if the SLOs are overly general, repetitious, or impossible to achieve in a 3-credit course?

    “Ability to synthesize and transfer learning to new, complex situations” appears as a SLO in all three courses, while “develop written and visual communications skills” appears in only one. Why? Should both [or rather all four] of these SLOs appear as goals of the three-course series?

    “Learn about global studies.” Learn what about global studies?

    “Ability to interpret texts, creative works, compositions, productions and/or performances in their historical and cultural contexts.” Now, that’s a tall order for a freshman experience course. But wait. Freshmen will aos need to “demonstrate knowledge of art’s role in shaping the history and diversity of the world’s cultures as well as its effect on cross-cultural issues and interactions.”

    As I said, these things are hard to write and may be refined. But I worry that the result (or perhaps the intent) of these vague SLOs will be that just about any lower-division course will qualify as an integrative foundation “core” class if it can fit in with a couple of these goals. “Ability to read critically and understand historic or contemporary text.” Wouldn’t just about any course that required reading fit this goal?

    The USC general education curriculum looks much like the Blue alternative, and it has its own problems. But the three introductory courses are much better conceived than these. Have a look if you are still interested in the Blue plan.

  3. Anonymous’s avatar

    I strongly prefer the Silver Plan. It presents a clear curriculum that begins with fundamental skills in mathematics and English, and complements specialized learning in the major by teaching students key elements of the different disciplines. An interdisciplinary capstone course allow students to synthesize critical strategies they’ve learned in the major with those they’ve learned through general education. The Blue Plan has four “foundation” courses that may not have pre- or co-requisites. Thus faculty teaching any of these courses must assume that students have no university-level preparation in math or writing. That seriously limits what can be done in these courses. This plan also seems to prefer interdisciplinary themes courses to courses in disciplines. I am concerned that this will result in watered-down results: students will not really learn about disciplinary thinking. The distinction between “integrative foundation” and “focused inquiry” is unclear: some of the outcomes listed for “focused inquiry” are things that students need to learn before they’re prepared to learn some of the things listed under “integrative foundation.”

  4. Lynda Walsh’s avatar

    I would like to thank the Gen Ed Task Force for their truly Herculean labor on this project. I can appreciate the logic behind both proposals, but speaking as someone who has administered a Gen Ed program before, the Blue plan is simply not feasible. It removes too many core competencies from formal curricular oversight, making them hard to track and assess. It also places an unfair burden on faculty to teach competencies outside their fields of expertise, particularly in the area of writing instruction. If we follow the Blue plan, we will have no idea if it’s working or not because it will be impractical to track the fragmented competencies through all the different departments and courses in which they are supposedly covered.
    In both the silver and blue plan, I am concerned about the apparent attempt to cut down the number of hours of writing practice new students will have as part of the Core. We have done studies here that indicate students who take ENG 101 do better in 102 than those who just test into 102. Writing is not content–it’s process and practice. Students simply need more time to develop mastery in core writing competencies than they do in other Core courses. Mission statements and self-studies at *all levels* of this university suggest that students need *better* writing skills than they currently have; I can’t imagine how *cutting* writing instruction from the Core will work toward that goal.

  5. ljward’s avatar

    On Mar 29, 2012, at 5:04 PM, Eric B Herzik wrote:

    I was going to limit this to just Larry, as we talked briefly at the Chairs meeting, but will pass along some observations to all of you.

    At the CLA chairs meeting there was vocal dismay about truncating CH and perhaps other parts of the more humanities and arts aspects of the core. I don’t know that my department faculty would necessarily share that sentiment. We (PSC) have had an uneven relationship with CH and at least half of the faculty would not be bothered if the whole sequence went away (mostly on substantive grounds.) Except for perhaps Leah Wilds, who is the only faculty member from PSC who teaches in CH, if CH shrinks from 3 to 2 courses, such a reduction would not draw the dismay which was being solicited at the meeting. Thus, to say there is a united or more accurately unanimous feeling on this issue in CLA would not be accurate. (And I can imagine that Psychology would be similarly predisposed or more likely just ambivalent.)

    As chair of a department that would most likely be most affected by any movement concerning the US and Nevada Constitution requirement (although History could be equally affected) I have some split feelings. How CH 203 covers the US and especially the Nevada Constitution is a joke. While I haven’t checked syllabi in two years, in the past the Nevada Constitution was not made available. If covered (and that is an IF) there might be part of one lecture devoted to Nevada. In talking with both an instructor and a few students (so not a great sample) coverage of the US Constitution was also very limited. Perhaps Neal has instituted changes, but if not, then I would offer up the following analogy. Would you be satisfied if PSC had a course claiming to be diverse – say on the basis of gender – because a part of a couple of lectures touched on the topic? If CH gets redone, CH 203 could disappear and the US and Nevada Constitution requirement would have to be picked up in some other way. However, and this is a my dilemma as chair, while I don’t think CH 203 effectively meets the spirit or perhaps even letter of the constitution requirements, I don’t know that PSC and/or History are prepared to take on this load. In the pre-Core era the US and Nevada Constitutions were covered by PSC 103 (which then changed to PSC 101) and a similar History class (105?) Given a smaller student body and a MUCH smaller number of majors, PSC handled the load. I don’t know that we could now. OK, we could, but we would be running CH sized classes of 103/101 with a need for GTA support for sections. An alternative, one discussed by Marc, would be to do these requirements through some sort of computerized class system. I never got the details but have grave suspicions of how valuable and truly reflective of the substantive points such an approach would embrace. (Again, would you accept this for a gender class requirement or for anything in the humanities and arts?) Online options are available, but I think many in administration think this is a no-cost, run as many students through as you can approach. I am currently teaching online PSC 100 (Nevada Constitution) sections and they are not so easily done – if done in the true spirit of honoring the content. (And I have streamlined this course.)

    I am less concerned that social sciences gets X number of courses in the Core. This seemed to be a concern from the humanities folks (and I may be wrong in that impression) but to start saying X area must have a course kind of mocks the idea that drove this effort. I don’t see where Engineering (technology) necessarily has a course or even Business. As Marc (and we rarely agree on anything) noted “is this about core competencies or 36 credits?”

  6. David Fenimore’s avatar

    Although the Silver plan is preferable to the Blue for many reasons outlined elsewhere in this blog, I want to address what I see as a foundational flaw in Silver (even more pronounced though not as explicit in Blue): the well-meaning but vague and all-but-impracticable assertion that writing and computational skills will be “reinforced throughout the curriculum,” as Silver puts it, after a single three-credit course each.

    Having taught Core Humanities in large-lecture, small-class, and Honors section for two decades and worked with thousands of sophomores, juniors and even seniors from all colleges and majors, I would conservatively estimate that 35-50% of them have not yet developed the skills to reliably generate 250-500 words of coherent, typo-free prose in something approaching standard English. As Lynda Walsh has pointed out here, first-year students need more, not less, practice to consistently acquire this ability. (And Core Writing as well as Core Humanities have some hard assessment data to support my estimates.) It’s process, as she points out, not content. For many of them it is literally learning a new language and the corresponding neuromuscular conditioning. It’s not a “download.”

    More times than I can remember, students with whom I work personally have protested that this kind of writing, so essential in the workplace and the public forum, is not valued or practiced in the other courses they’re taking. Too many undergraduates tell me they mainly write short answers and fill out Scantron sheets, or else write 10-15-page research papers that come back with a grade and few if any comments and certainly no specific editing feedback. I wonder if my colleagues in math are any more confident that the core competencies in their area will be “reinforced throughout the curriculum”? Say what you will about CH (and after 20 years I would welcome a fresh look at these courses) — it is the last place where many — if not most — of our undergraduates are asked to compare, contrast, and synthesize a variety of textual sources into a sustained and readable piece of argumentative discourse.

    Now a pitch for my team, and a point for the Silver: besides this basic learning outcome, courses like CH give added value in that these writing assignments often center on informed debates about the role of religion in politics, the roots of representative government and human rights, the validity of the scientific method, war and nationalism, and other ongoing issues a familiarity with which is essential to any educated citizen who must make meaning out of a bewildering deluge of information and opinion. I am glad that the Silver alternative preserves at least a few of these irreplaceable learning opportunities. I will concede that 6 credits of broad, integrative CH-type courses are preferable to none, before undergraduates settle into the well-worn paths of their major specializations.

  7. James Mardock’s avatar

    Thanks to the task force, and thanks also to all the people who have responded so thoughtfully in this comment section. I may have more to say later, but here are my preliminary reactions.

    Both of these plans have serious flaws. First of all, I’m not sure how the proposals follow from what our external review of the core actually said. Neither proposal makes a cogent enough case that the existing core curriculum cannot simply be retooled, or provides any evidence that the versions of the overhaul they propose will accomplish the goals that we want to accomplish in a better way. The plans contain explicit mentions of certain buzzwords from the external review, to be sure — “ethics” and “diversity” and “globalization” — but neither plan gives any sense of what those things mean, and how the general education plan can possibly address them in a way that will be meaningful across the curriculum. Ethics means something radically different to an engineer than it does to a chemist, a sociologist, a historian, etc.

    A major problem that will be more apparent when it comes time to vote on these plans is the lack of any plan of implementation. We can’t vote for or against the plans until we know how their oversimplified abstractions translate into actual course content and implementable goals. If we can’t actually retool existing courses, who is going to oversee the development of new ones? Where will the money come from? What is the schedule for rolling out new courses and curricular plans? How do we go from bullet-pointed lists of undefined abstract nouns to course numbers? What will the larger implications for other NSHE schools and transfer credits look like?

    Both Silver and Blue plans are inadequate in this regard, but the Blue plan in particular is disastrously under-thought. Some of my colleagues have pointed out that it seems not to acknowledge the skills our students enter the university having, and that it seems to be proposing a “Freshman/Sophomore experience” that consists entirely of abstract “Competencies” to be acquired before students have taken the courses that will give them the practical foundational skills needed to acquire those competencies. Math and Writing are simply not “Focused Inquiries;” they are sets of skills and reasoning methods that form a basis for focused inquiry. They are analogous to muscles that need to be worked repeatedly and consistently in a variety of contexts, over the four years a student attends the university. Our current core curriculum is not always implemented in the way it is intended, but it is meant – with the CH sequence leading to the capstone course — to give students exercise in writing throughout their education. The new plans seem to suggest that a little three-credit dip into writing in the first year will be sufficient preparation for a senior thesis project four years later. This just won’t fly in practice.

    Like David Fenimore, I’ll welcome a thoughtful reexamination of the core humanities program, but it has to proceed from an examination of the current objectives for all three courses, a proposal of what the objectives for our ideal humanities requirements will be, and specific definitions of such vague abstractions as “ethics” and “critical thinking”. The proposals seem rather to be conceiving of the humanities requirements as a kitchen sink: any objectives or skills or competencies that the colleges don’t want to take responsibility for and address themselves will be offloaded onto the General Education humanities requirement, so long as it can be done with no specific direction and in fewer credits than the university currently requires. This is a hear-no-requirements, see-no-requirements strategy, not a workable plan.

    The CH director and interested faculty, incidentally, will be meeting soon to discuss possible strategies for practical implementation of change to the humanities requirements that might be accommodated into these plans, but until the plans themselves are revised to give more concrete, practicable guidelines for change, our discussion will contain a large degree of speculation.

  8. Bill Macauley’s avatar

    I am concerned that in both plans, at least in terms of writing, there is a wide gap between the outcomes of the first/second-year core courses and the expectations included in the capstone courses (the final step in Core), with no articulated process, scaffolding, or plan for getting students from one to the other.

  9. Anonymous’s avatar

    As regards student writing, the Blue Plan is ill-conceived and unsupported. An example of its lack of rigorous conceptualization is that it dismantles our current “writing across the curriculum” efforts as embodied in our Core Curriculum. Now students take English 101 and/or 102; then they take CH 201, 202, and 203. These five courses taken at the freshman, sophomore, and junior levels reinforce writing in a variety of ways and all are the subject of systematic assessment. Finally, students take more writing in their two Capstones. Obviously, students need more writing than can be accomplished in these seven courses, but they form a solid foundation. And, admittedly, the Capstones would benefit from better assessments. The Blue Plan destroys this systematic approach in favor of freshman experiences and follow-on courses that do not ensure regular, progressive, re-enforced writing skills. The Blue Plan offers no justification, either logically or empirically, to suggest that the various “competencies” are adequate, systematic, or can be defended by empirical studies based on other universities’ experiences.

  10. Neal Ferguson’s avatar

    The major segment of the present Core Curriculum that is truly interdisciplinary is Core Humanities. The courses have been put together (and are continually modified) by faculty from five different disciplines. Not carved into tablets the courses continue to change. The CH courses have been recognized nationally. CH faculty have received national awards. The CH project was the object of a major challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Internal and external data clearly suggest that the courses are successful and that that they attain their educational objectives.

    Occasionally the courses are the subject of criticism. Why? Is it because they combine for a nine credit requirement? Perhaps that’s part of it. To set the record straight: when deliberations began to create what became the Core Curriculum c. 1990, the then Western Traditions requirement was intended to be six credits. The idea for a two-course, multi-disciplinary requirement that would satisfy the Humanities part of the distribution requirements arose from a faculty committee appointed in 1983 by then Vice President for Academic Affairs, Richard Davies. The committee, chaired by me when I was Dean of Continuing Education, originated two pilot courses under the rubric: “Ideas, Values, and Cultures.” IVC became the core of Western Traditions. Some years later, when creating a new Core Curriculum was underway, the upper administration decided to add a third course that would also include the legislatively required constitution requirement—the American Experience. That’s why the present requirement stands at nine credits. Humanities’ imperialism was not part of the equation. The decision, however, was a controversial one at the time and remains so.

    Or does the criticism arise from the mandatory nature of the requirement and the student resentment thereby engendered? Perhaps. I make no apologies to students for its being mandatory. Faculty from five departments got together to design the package of courses. That’s what faculty do. True enough: the trend at American universities has been to allow student to pick from a bewildering array of courses to satisfy general education requirements. In a major reform the University of Nebraska reduced its cornucopia of general education courses from 3,000 to something under 2,000! Some faculty thought the you-pick trend to be ill-conceived in 1990 and still do. Still, humanities faculty have not demanded that other disciplinary faculty follow our lead, but we are proud of what we have created. Along with composition, CH is the core of the Core Curriculum. Having said this, I will readily acknowledge that various sections of each of the CH courses vary widely even though they are still recognizable as being roughly equivalent. Core Humanities should be preserved and will be defended as necessary.

    Or does the criticism arise not with students but with faculty? More than one student has complained to me about the workload associated with CH and has added: and my adviser (or other faculty members) says that CH is “make work,” or some such epithet. Perhaps faculty have actually said the things that students report to me. If so, faculty solidarity may be jeopardized. In my experience some faculty think that intellectual effort outside their own disciplines is a contradiction in terms. And so we have discussions about the “hard sciences” or the perceived philistinism of various disciplines or the superior value of majors that “put people to work” or the lack of support for _____(insert the discipline, program, college of choice).

    Or does the criticism arise because not all of our students have to take CH? Those who transfer from other parts of the NSHE can transfer courses into UNR, or in the case of TMCC, transfer the CH courses they take there. About 35% of students transfer in their CH courses. That’s hardly a criticism that can be directed at CH alone. We are, I think, all part of the same higher education system.

    I also hear criticism that the courses too difficult. They are challenging. They require students to bump-up against some fundamental texts in philosophy, science, political theory, literature, history, art, and jurisprudence. They require a substantial amount of writing, discussion, and oral presentation. But are they TOO difficult? Not from my perspective. The following data includes all sections of all classes, 2005-2010. The DFW rate for these courses is around twenty percent. Twenty percent! More than sixty percent of the students receive A’s and B’s. Of those students who finish the classes and do the assignments, more than seventy-five percent get A, B, or C grades. The average grade is somewhere between a B- and a B. CH instructors recognize that these courses are required and do not try either to flunk students or drive them out of their courses. I personally would like to see slightly lower grades in CH courses but have no fear: academic freedom prevails.

    Set against these criticisms is recognition that the three courses have morphed over the years, that they have changed with the times, but make little effort to swing with the breeze. Each of them does contain “non-Western” curricular elements. Student assessments that ask the students to rate their improvement during the semester are quite positive. The basis of the assessment is a specific but different set of student learning outcomes for each course a. Alumni survey data is highly supportive. And, anecdotally, ex-students of all ages stop me in Raley’s to let me know that “now”—some years later–Core Humanities was one of the best courses they ever took.

    Let’s have a discussion about Core Humanities in the context of the proposed plans.

  11. James Mardock’s avatar

    Here are some further general observations and ideas for the future of the humanities requirements.

    It seems as though we have a desire across the university to have a humanities requirement that is seen to be more relevant to our undergraduates in each field than the current CH courses are — rightly or not — perceived to be. I, for one, would welcome more participation from Business, Journalism, Engineering, and the sciences (among others) in implementing and teaching courses that are, after all, designed to give students an awareness of the backgrounds and contexts for intellectual inquiry in ALL fields, including their own. None of our students, in any college, pursues a field whose primary questions arose in a vacuum. Engineering and business and empirical science are pursuits conducted by humans, and they are pursuits that draw on the traditions of intellectual inquiry that form both the content and the methodology of CH courses.

    What’s more, all of our fields of study require spoken and written communication, as well as the ability to pursue logical argument, distinguish opinion from supportable assertion, understand the contexts and history of debatable issues, and understand counterarguments and alternative theories to one’s own hypothesis. These are the learning objectives and the bread and butter of the humanities requirements, and those courses, if implemented as they should be, form a crucial sequential experience in the middle two years of an undergraduate education that allows students to develop these skills, techniques, and habits of mind in a consistent and ongoing fashion between an early foundation in writing and the work that they do in their capstones, senior theses, and advanced major courses.

    No one would expect a chemistry student to take a single course in laboratory techniques in the first year, then ignore those techniques and stay out of the lab for three years and emerge in the senior year as an expert titrator. No one should expect Core Writing 102 to make a student after one semester into the best writer she’ll be in her life. You get a foundation of skills, and then you practice those skills consistently.

    I welcome ideas for revamping the General Education requirements in humanities that better address the needs of all the University’s colleges, while fulfilling the specific learning objectives that we can all agree on, implemented in a consistent way in the middle two years of the degree.

    Currently CH is taught (with a few exceptions) as a three-course “greatest hits” humanities sequence. The goals listed above are certainly addressed, but while this model has definite virtues, perhaps teaching the important ideas of, say, Plato, Homer, Christianity, Islam, Marx, Freud, Darwin, etc. does not serve the needs of every undergraduate.

    I can imagine an alternative requirement that pursues the goals of the humanities sequence by offering a menu of themed courses — perhaps team taught, certainly incorporating teaching from outside CLA and the usual suspect departments — from which students could choose six credits. I can think of a number of such course titles off the top of my head:

    “Faith and Observation from Heraclitus to Dawkins”

    “Free Will, Thermodynamics, and the Gods”

    “Economics, Propaganda, and Architecture”

    “The City as Idea and Material”

    “The Philosophy and Psychology of Information Systems”

    “What’s a Human? A Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Question”

    We could all come up with any number of other ones specific to our disciplines and passions.

    Such courses would have to be fairly rigorously assessed to ensure that they provided intensive practice in writing, an awareness of logical and fallacious thinking, and an ability to see multiple sides of the more complex issues in any discipline. But the benefit would be to share the ownership of General Education among the excellent educators across the disciplines of the University, and to expose all of our students to the imagination and skill of a wider range of teachers.

    The alternative, which both plans seem to offer to some degree, is to require the faculty of some colleges to shunt responsibility for general education onto other colleges.

    A related observation: FTE brings benefits, and it brings responsibilities. It may be a cynically played zero-sum game, but FTE is not the same as learning.

  12. anonymous’s avatar

    I believe that the general core requirements do not live up to the stated ideals of modern core programs. We still do not have a curriculum which is not diversified much more than it was 25 years ago, when I sat on the original Core Curriculum planning committee. We worked to include creative arts; we lobbied hard for courses that would not just seem white, male and European. We have not made enough progress in those last areas

  13. Catherine’s avatar

    Although I am absolutely in favor of additional integration of core concepts and skills across the curriculum, I am strongly against the Blue plan. Not only is there no way to assess the implimentation of this plan (as there are no clear courses linked to desired competencies), there is also no sequence built into the plan to assure that the development of competencies transfer between courses and built on one another. As of now, this plan demonstrates a range of desired competencies and no clear way of delivering them. If we wish to integrate the core, there needs to be a concrete articulation of what that would mean. As it currently stands, this plan seems like an empty gesture toward a general education curriculum while allowing discrete disciplinary programs to deliver material in isolation from any real shared educational foundations. While I appreciate the time and energy put into these plans, I very much caution against what appears to be a rather empty gesture at the integrated model.

  14. Katharine DeBoer’s avatar

    The Blue Option sounds like another unfortunate application of “No child left behind” – which caters to the lowest common denominator. The objectives sound more suitable for a high school application – generalized education – rather than college level. Such generalization would eviscerate the curriculum I teach (music), which depends on specificity right from the first semester freshman year. What is offered in the Blue option would actually put my majors seriously behind in their goals.

  15. James Winn’s avatar

    I would greatly dislike to see the Blue plan adopted by this university. I can so no improvement or gain over the general eduction provided by either our core requirements as they currently are, or over the proposed silver plan, while the problems of execution and assessment connected with it would be enormous.

  16. Justin Gifford’s avatar

    As someone who has taught the large Core Humanities lecture course every spring for the past five years, I can say without hesitation that the Blue plan is not a desirable option for our students. I realize that I am going to echo what many others have said here, but I think it is worth emphasizing that the Blue plan is so unspecific as to be very little use to our students. I have taught 200 undergraduates per semester in Core Humanities, and this is one of the few opportunities students can learn the essential critical thinking and writing skills necessary for entering into a competitive job market and achieving a broad-based liberal arts education. Students come in to Core Humanities with weak skills in reading comprehension and critical writing, and most of them leave having gained the necessary competencies for participating in public life and the job market. It would be a grave mistake to take this away from our students, as many of them already struggle with the basic reading and writing skills that many other students across the country learn in high school. We need to acknowledge that Nevada does not have a strong public education program at the K-12 level, and that courses like Core Humanities are created in part to catch our students up to their peers across the nation. We do our students a disservice by refusing to acknowledge this; we also do them a disservice to adopt the Silver plan, which is loaded with buzzwords and vagaries, but contains very little in the way of useful content. If you ask almost any student–in the Humanities, Sciences, Engineering, Business, etc.–they will tell you that Core Humanities was one of the most memorable and useful courses for preparing them for the real world. They will tell you that it is this kind of course that exemplifies what college should offer people. They will tell you that, even though the may have been resistant to the courses at the beginning of their college careers, that Core Humanities is one of the few important classes that every undergraduate needs to take. If we take Core Humanities away from students, then it is my opinion that this will weaken our intellectual community and our national standing even further.

  17. Cari Cunningham’s avatar

    I feel almost embarrassed to admit how much the work of the General Education Task Force has educated me on the core curriculum that is currently in place at UNR. Though I do not advise majors, since UNR does not offer a major in dance, as an educator I should be acutely aware of our general goals for our graduates. In this respect, I am grateful that the Silver and Blue plans (and the incredibly undertaking of this task force) have really caused me to think deeply about what general education can and should do for all students who graduate from our institution. Certainly it is easier to identify the pitfalls, rather than the strengths of these two plans, however I would like to first point out that even the charge to, and process of, thinking about what defines a UNR graduate in terms of general education student learning outcomes should get us all talking and serve to strengthen curriculum campus-wide.

    As much as I am in support of communication across disciplines, I must admit that as an artist I am predominantly concerned about what these two plans seem to suggest about the importance of the arts, and in particular the fine arts, within the general education curriculum. I am grateful that both proposals devote at least three credits (in line with the current core requirement) to the arts as I believe that leaving the sole artistic education of a large percentage of our graduates to mass media would be a travesty. In addition I believe that study in the fine arts, whether in a music appreciation course or an introductory theatre class, greatly enhances students’ ability to see the cross disciplinary potential that we are always advocating for. For example, I am thrilled when I hear a Biology major compare a choreographer’s use of space to molecular structure or a musician and mathematician finding common ground in the realm of chance procedure and music composition. In addition, I think it is critical that this arts component of general education be a lecture course (ideally with an experiential component that exposes students to live performance and/or practice of an art form), taken in the Freshman or Sophomore year, in which practicing artists (dancers, painters, musicians, actors, sculptors, animators, and so on) sit side-by-side with those that have no experience with the focused study of an artistic discipline. In my experience, this “level playing field” interaction opens up cross-disciplinary pollination and fosters growth and understanding on both sides. For this reason, the Blue plan seems a bit more problematic to me than the Silver plan.

    While I am nervous about the seemingly tacked on phrase “and related topics” under Arts in the Silver Plan, I suspect this vagueness will be clarified as student learning outcomes are solidified. In the Blue plan, however, the Arts fall under the heading of “Focused Inquiry” and are seemingly positioned for a Junior/Senior experience. In my opinion this is too late. In addition the “OR” in the Arts requirement is confusing to me. Are we suggesting that students will be allowed to fulfill this general education requirement by either taking a lecture-based course focused on analysis and interpretation in the arts OR through artistic practice? I’m reading the latter as studio based courses in art, theatre, dance, or music and offering this as an alternative scares me a bit. I suspect that those majoring in an artistic discipline would be thrilled that they could fulfill this requirement by staying well within their comfort zone and, though I would like to have more students enrolled in my modern dance classes, I am also an unwavering advocate of the side-by-side artist/non-artist interaction that I mentioned above. It’s a different experience watching Balanchine’s “Four Temperaments” or Martha Graham’s “Night Journey” when you are in a classroom with dancers who have a physical knowledge of what it takes to dance these works. It is also critical, in my opinion, that these dancers understand the academic side of their discipline and hear an English major analyze Graham’s choreographic take on the text of “Oedipus Rex” (sorry, I know this should be italicized, but I couldn’t get this blog to accept the italics!), which is the basis for “Night Journey”.

    I am also a bit confused by the “Humanistic Reasoning & Creative Arts” component in the “Integrative Foundation” section of the Blue plan. This seems to be an earlier exposure to the arts, potentially. But this categorization seems so broad that I’m not even sure we can count on the students having any exposure to the arts (particularly from a faculty member versed in an artistic discipline) in this component of the general education.

    Aside from my concerns directly related to the arts and how they are addressed within these plans, I also share my colleagues’ concerns that requiring less practice in writing throughout the core curriculum is a tremendous mistake. I’m certain that we can all agree that we’d like our graduates to be effective communicators regardless of their chosen majors. I do not want to hear from my students in upper division dance history courses that they have not written a research paper since their Core Writing 102 class and I agree with David Fenimore that, like dance, writing takes continual practice. I also find myself perplexed by terms such as “globalization” and “equity issues” and find their integration into both plans a bit nebulous. What is meant by these terms and is this something that should be reinforced throughout the general education curriculum or made into a specific category (such as the current diversity requirement)?

    Neither plan is perfect, but like many of my colleagues I find the Blue plan to be underdeveloped and very likely impossible to implement, let alone assess. And I’m also curious, as a relative newcomer to UNR, what has prompted this seemingly pointed attack on the Core Humanities sequence?

  18. Barbara Walker’s avatar

    Many of my colleagues have covered the most salient points with regard to the relative merits of the Silver and the Blue plans; I agree that the Silver is better than the Blue. However, upon carefully reviewing the Core program that we currently have in place, I have to say that I think it is better than either; despite its lack of perfection the degree of thought and care that clearly went into it is impressive. The Silver seems to be essentially a reduction of credits required in a similar plan, while the Blue is a real experiment. I like James Mardock’s ideas and course proposals. But what worries me most about both the Blue and the Mardock proposals is how much work it would take to turn such proposals into full programs that are pedagogically effective. Both would require an enormous investment of time and energy by faculty who could instead be improving the reputation of the university, as well as the quality of their teaching as fully engaged scholars, through research, writing, consulting, and creative activities.

  19. Anonymous’s avatar

    Given a choice between Silver and Blue, I think Silver best serves multiple disciplines and will be more feasible to implement. In the Blue plan I am particularly concerned about the fact that social science is not included as a separate requirement. In general, I am hopeful that the final plan chosen will also give strong instruction in diversity, writing, and global issues.

  20. Anonymous’s avatar

    I too respect the efforts of the committee and there is no need to repeat what has been stated repeatedly above except that it really seems clear that the Silver Plan is a superior option. I do not like the Blue Plan’s distinction between the natural and social sciences, the Silver Plan is more clearly articulated, and the Silver Plan can conceivably be implemented with less obstacles or issues. Finally, we need to teach students strong writing skills earlier, rather than later, in their careers. Many juniors and seniors currently have very poor written communication skills and pushing that skill set back later than it is already offered is a mistake in my opinion. Please do not water-down efforts to make UNR students competent communicators.

  21. Greta de Jong’s avatar

    I am often scheduled to teach CH 203 and a general capstone course in history in the same semester. Whenever this happens, I am struck by how much better our students are at the upper-division level compared to when they first start taking classes at UNR. Most of my capstone students have a solid understanding of the history of the United States and the rest of the world, regardless of their major fields of study. They are curious and engaged, seeking to broaden their understanding of past events and how they influence our lives today. They can find and synthesize information into coherent essays and presentations; clearly articulate their ideas both orally and in writing; and often demonstrate sophisticated analytical skills. In class discussions students listen respectfully to each other even when they disagree, and they frequently raise questions of their own or offer original insights into the material we are studying. All of this suggests to me that the existing core curriculum is doing something right. UNR is producing knowledgeable and thoughtful citizens who have the skills to succeed in their future endeavors, whatever those might be. The current system sets out a clear progression for achieving those skills, as does the slightly modified version under the Silver plan. The Blue plan seems vague by comparison, and it’s hard to see specifically how students would develop high-level writing, communication, and analytical skills under that system.

  22. Anonymous’s avatar

    The Silver option lays out a curriculum in which courses build upon prerequisite courses and thus help students to develop competencies with depth and rigor. The Blue option lists many desirable competencies but doesn’t propose a curriculum that will help students to develop them well. For instance, the “integrative” courses all have as a goal that students would learn to “synthesize and transfer learning to new, complex situations.” This is one of the most difficult things for undergraduates to learn. For them to do it well, they must already have the mathematical and writing skills necessary to carry out that synthesis and transfer. Yet we would expect them to do it before they have focused courses in mathematics and writing? This really seems unwise from a pedagogical point of view.

  23. Jen Hill’s avatar

    Thanks to the taskforce for taking on such an enormous job. I think it is important that we evaluate our core frequently and make sure that it’s doing what we hope it will. I would have liked a bit more access to statistics and assessment data, however. One hears a great deal about students getting “hung up” and not able to proceed to graduation due to the core requirements but is this really a serious problem? One hears about students who grouse about “worthless” classes (not just core requirements!), but is there data to support claims that the core as we have it now is/is not effective? I know Core Writing and CH have done assessments; has core math and science? Do we have that data to look at? And where’s the evidence that a revised core will help with graduation rates? (These rates are dependent on several factors, including student preparation, student commitment to learning, etc.)

    The survey was a start, but since it was voluntary and vague, I’m not sure that it yielded useful information. Weren’t almost all of those categories things that educators believe students should encounter?

    I will echo what many others above have said: if one “must” change the core (if there is data to support that it doesn’t deliver what we need it to or that it could deliver it more efficiently), it seems the Silver plan better articulates goals/outcomes.

    That said, even there I have doubts about its articulations: the grouping and “tasking” of so many desired exposures/knowledges makes them dilute; the defining of “science” as excluding social sciences is problematic; the vagueness of “global” and “diversity”… the absence of financial/economic literacy so essential to a citizen.

    Yet all of these issues and more attend to the Blue plan. In addition to huge implementation questions (whether such a huge overhaul makes sense at this present moment, UNR’s present over-reliance on underpaid lecturers, etc), the Blue Plan doesn’t attend or articulate the value of exposure to varied modes of inquiry, or of critical thinking across and connecting various disciplines. Other issues include: where the desired creation of a local/global citizen occurs; the withering of political/cultural history so important to the development of an informed citizen; the assumption that diversity “happens” or “will happen” in our classes. Echoing Professor de Jong above, I have a very hard time seeing where high-level critical writing, communication, and analytical skills will be developed in the Blue plan.

  24. Phil Boardman’s avatar

    One must applaud any examination of the Core Curriculum that is faculty-driven and motivated by a desire to strengthen foundational principles and broad general education. Most professional associations focused on general education or core studies agree that curricula such as ours should be evaluated and overhauled every ten to fifteen years. That said, I think it is fairly apparent that our Core Proposals—both Silver and Blue—have been impelled by twin forces: the mandate to cut graduation credits to 120 (putting pressure on credit-heavy major programs) and a long-standing desire on the part of some faculty and programs to extricate their students from what they see as a CLA monopoly on Core FTE (Core Writing, Core Humanities, fine arts, diversity, and social science required courses). Core Humanities has for years drawn particular fire because of its nine required credits, even though, as Neal Ferguson shows in his post, the CH 203 course was built out of legislatively mandated constitution courses previously offered by History and Political Science.
    It is ironic that both proposals trumpet their innovative nature by turning to an already well-worn language of outcomes and criteria. It is ironic especially because it is the existing Core that is actually revolutionary and could provide the basis for a true enhancement. Take Core Humanities, for example. The program was designed by faculty from across the humanities, including two disciplines often grouped among the social sciences: history and political science. In addition to providing efficiently and on a grand scale introductory materials from traditional humanities, the courses also touch on the history and appreciation of science, art, and music. It is significant that humanities faculty were able to agree to give up departmental courses, many of them required, in favor of a truly interdisciplinary set of courses, taught by teaching teams from five departments. This has enlivened the whole pedagogical experience of faculty and grad students who have taught in the program. My own teaching teams over the years have included not only TAs, but also faculty members, some of them senior. I myself have served as a discussion leader for three other faculty members from three different departments. All of this is to say that in Core Humanities, beginning students can still come into contact with senior faculty, many of them award-winning teachers.
    As Neal explained in his post, the Core Humanities program grew out of, actually, two different curricular experiments during the eighties. When the Core was being designed, in 1988 and 1989, the current Core Humanities sequence was offered in a year-long pilot run. The program was prepared for with a major two year NEH Educational grant that brought national speakers to campus and “trained” faculty with two summers of interdisciplinary Summer Seminars led by nationally-known experts in their fields. In 1994 the program was extended a $690,000 NEH Challenge Grant that seeded a $3m endowment that supports a program of Distinguished Professors and Distinguished TAs in the contributing departments. Those departments have also been strengthened with teaching and research Post-Docs, supported by the Endowment, in fields the departments choose to enhance. At the same time, the Core Humanities program has been assessed and evaluated at every level, many times over, by national teams from the NEH and also by committees of faculty outside the program at UNR. I would venture to guess that CH has been the most evaluated program on campus.
    A similar thing could be said about Core Writing, which pioneered program assessment on campus with major portfolio assessment projects undertaken in the nineties and again in the aughts. Core Writing provides probably the most intensive and productive teacher training workshops for TAs on campus. Both Core Writing and Core Humanities have published Student Learning Outcomes that are much more specific and more hierarchical than the extraordinarily vague and general SLOs touted in the two new plans under consideration. The Core Writing and Core Humanities outcomes, furthermore, were conceived in conjunction with the carefully crafted Core Curriculum outcomes as part of a process of curriculum mapping.
    It is, then, very strange that both Silver and Blue plans actually seek to dismantle the most thought-through and successful parts of the existing Core. The plans also wreck what is a true strength of the existing structure, that it is a Vertical Core that haunts students “cradle to grave,” as it were, in favor of what is essentially a very old-fashioned freshman Core with a vague frosting of Capstone at the end. The upshot of the two Core proposals can be easily recognized by scanning the previous posts in this blog thread. All the responders are from CLA and nearly all from humanities and fine arts. These people recognize the immense cost in student achievement that these proposals entail. Eric Herzik alone from the social sciences (or math?) and nobody from the natural sciences have troubled themselves with this discussion. Why? Because they recognize that the proposals have virtually no effect upon those programs. The Learning Outcomes have been so skimpily drawn that virtually any course can be argued to meet the criteria, and thus almost no curricular work needs to be done in those programs. Both Silver and Blue plans virtually ensure a return to the very old-fashioned menus of introductory disciplinary courses—perhaps finally even in the humanities—in which students choose too early to track themselves based on word-of-mouth and preconceptions.
    What would be a truly revolutionary Core has been broached by special committees a couple times in the last fifteen or so years, but to no avail. This would be for the social sciences and the natural sciences to develop, on the interdisciplinary (or predisciplinary) model of Core Humanities, true introductory Core courses in the social, physical, and biological sciences. Faculty in Core Humanities would delight, in fact, in crossing boundaries as they did several years ago under the aegis of Math Across the Curriculum. Since we teach, from a historical and intellectual perspective, about ancient Greek science, the scientific method, Roman engineering, Hobbes and Locke and Jefferson, Darwin, Freud, and myriad others, we could truly energize our students’ curiosities, accomplishments, and opportunities by working together to communicate an authentically general education. Many of us in the humanities have backgrounds in quite disparate fields (my minors were in math and physics), and I know many in the STEM disciplines who recognize the life-importance of the arts and humanities.
    A few weeks ago, Norman Matloff (Computer Science, UC Davis), writing on Bloomberg.com, noted that computer science majors and software engineers were among the most-sought and highest-paid new college graduates. He warned of the danger in their future, quoting a former Intel CEO as saying “the half-life of an engineer, software or hardware, is only a few years.” Matloff concluded by saying, “If you choose a software-engineering career, just keep in mind that you could end up working for one of those lowly humanities majors someday.” Surely, we can do better than reinforce this growing gulf between “the two cultures” by thoroughly immersing our students in a broad pre-disciplinary general education program that forestalls as much as possible their own tendency toward disciplinary thinking and, even after they have chosen majors, discourages their easy rejection of other, supposedly opposing, disciplines. This task, which I’ll call Appreciation Across the Curriculum, must begin with faculty, and it is vital at this university at this time.

  25. Anonymous’s avatar

    I do not feel that I can add much to the conversation beyond what has already been stated – most of my concerns regarding both plans have been echoed in earlier posts. I will however voice conservative support for the Silver Plan. I feel that it provides a better foundation to begin a restructuring if restructuring is indeed necessary. With that being said, I do not yet consider the Silver Alternative proposal to be fully developed or realized. I believe the Core has significant responsibility to writing across the curriculum in ways that are not fully addressed in the plan; I believe that the arts and humanities are given short shrift; and topics directly involving political/social history, diversity, and ethics are glaringly under-considered.

  26. Anonymous’s avatar

    I concur with much of the sentiment expressed above. In short, I support the Silver Plan, which seems, at least in theory, to better emphasize the importance of the Arts and Humanities. A core curriculum at its best offers breadth, encouraging students to have early exposure to a wide variety of fields and methodological approaches. However, it is imperative that critical thinking and writing skills are emphasized, and that these skills do not come at the cost of breadth of coverage. In my opinion, maintaining courses that engage diversity issues and multi-disciplinary perspectives is also extremely important. Additionally, the role of the Arts, in particular, is underplayed in both of the proposals. Indeed, the Arts are an arena in which students engage in discussions of political/cultural history, diversity, ethics, and socio-economic developments. Sincere thanks to the Gen Ed Task Force for their time and efforts.

  27. anonymous’s avatar

    I echo many of the comments already posted here. These sort of changes to our general education core should not be made without the benefit of a better supported process which includes broader participation from the full range of our academic faculty. If we are forced into a quick change, then the silver plan is far preferable to the blue plan, in part because the latter relocates instructional design outside of disciplines and according to categories that are not informed by rigorous broad-based discussion among academic faculty. It looks like a program more appropriate to high school than to a flagship university. The lack of focused inquiry in social science in the blue plan is also a glaring deficiency. Rethinking core curriculum could be excellent for UNR if it is done with more consideration, developed over more time and with greater participation from social science disciplines, who are clearly relevant to the stated goals but underrepresented in the plans.

  28. Anonymous’s avatar

    Like colleagues who have already posted, I appreciate the dedicated work of the committee as they carry out the important task of designing the core curriculum.

    While I support the endeavor of interdisciplinary inquiry, the Blue plan seems underdeveloped and unlikely to result in its stated goals. As others have pointed out, the Blue alternative collapses or confuses fields of study and topics—for example, not all social sciences explore globalization nor can the humanities be equated with the study of diversity or ethics—and does not prioritize multiple modes of inquiry; I am especially concerned that there is no social science requirement among the focused inquiry courses. It is difficult to imagine the implementation of this plan, particularly given tight budgets and the uncommitted resources that would be required to develop and teach successful interdisciplinary, integrative courses.

    Of the two options, the Silver plan better addresses the needs of our students. It provides math and writing preparation early on in the curriculum and ensures that students will take courses from a range of disciplines. Still, I have concerns that in scaling back the current core as proposed in either plan we will not adequately educate students in critical thinking and writing, explore issues related to diversity, or foster student engagement in local/global communities. I hope that the final plan, however it may be structured, will emphasize a broad and rigorous education that will serve our students in their many diverse endeavors, during their time at UNR and after graduation.

  29. anonymous’s avatar

    The comments that are above mine here do a wonderful job of outlining many problems associated with the Blue Plan and the Silver Plan. I will only echo a couple of these thoughts. More generally, what is wrong with the current core? Are we looking to improve the current core or dismantle it? If the former is the goal, then decreasing the number of courses and reducing the demands of the core seems silly. If the latter is the goal, then these plans should not be presented in the guise of improvement. An improved core should be more carefully assessed.

    How are these plans even comparable? The Silver Plan is a watered down version of the current core and the Blue Plan is a total overhaul filled with imprecise language, and implausible connections. To put the two plans to some kind of vote without clearer indications of just how they will be improvements seems hasty and ill-considered at best.

    The Blue Plan seems far too abstract to me to even consider as a viable option to replace the current core. How is it even an option? Has there been any kind of consideration of just how these ideas would be put into place? Would the faculty that currently teach the excellent core classes be forced to dismantle the current courses and develop new ones that undermine their own curriculum? Are these to be team-taught classes? How on earth would we even begin to revamp so many departmental offerings in such haste? Why is the administration looking to derail successful courses in place and taught by our excellent but overworked faculty now? Following the incredible turmoil we have seen in the past few years, is this the route that the administration wants to follow?

    The Silver Plan seems implementable, but this is faint praise indeed. I do hope that the people who are evaluating these plans and the options for moving forward will take into consideration the very considerate input here from so many of UNR’s faculty. If nothing else, these comments attest to the quality and thoughtfulness of the faculty that teach our students.

  30. anoymous’s avatar

    The only major weakness I see in the current Core is its absence of a language requirement for all University undergraduates. How can we possibly argue that we are preparing our miners and engineers etc. for a world market without language skills?
    More generally, it seems to me that we are allowing a kind of zero-sum struggle for FTE to shape the university curriculum, as many departments seek to gain FTE by increasing the requirements for their major or their college at the expense of others, including the Core. Is this increasingly narrow education to the benefit of our students? How does the university administration feel about this dynamic?

  31. Tom Nickles’s avatar

    Thanks to the committee for its hard work. Unfortunately, there is still much work to be done before we have a real choice. As several commentators have pointed out, the Blue plan is not even a plan at this point. It is just an abstract list with little indication of how it would be implemented. To vote between that and the present system (or even the still under-articulated Silver Plan) is sort of like choosing between a concrete plan with identifiable warts as well as beauty spots and a mostly empty box labeled THE GOOD.

    Those who promote the Blue Plan should tell us where the two million or so dollars is going to come from to support many, many people across campus in many departments for released time to design new courses. To pass the Blue Plan as it is, without such support, would work a terrible hardship on departments, especially smaller liberal arts, social science, and other departments already hit with teaching load increases in the past couple of years to help subsidize the large, rich departments.

    I am not against change, and I am certainly willing to develop some new courses. For example, I find some of James Mardock’s suggestions exciting. Further, I think it might be a good idea to give Core Humanities students a bit of a choice, e.g., by adding an alternative or two that they could substitute without completely killing the idea of a core humanities component. And I agree with the previous comment that even the Silver Plan does not attend as much as it should to outside assessment, e.g., the criticism that ethics and values receive rather short shrift in the present core curriculum.

    As people who know me will attest, I am a great fan of the hard sciences and engineering as well as the social sciences, arts, and humanities. But I will be dismayed if the apparent attempts of some to reduce the humanities to almost remedial courses gains a foothold. As former Arts & Science dean Bob Mead used to point out (based on an article he had read), the old Soviet Union had strong science and engineering. Where they were fatally weak was in the domains of free inquiry in the social sciences and humanities. It is the historical precursors of today’s social science and humanities as well as business life that did so much to create the possibility of modern republican and democratic governments. And, as others have pointed out in this blog (thereby joining such stalwarts as John Dewey), the battle for a vibrant democracy is an ongoing one, not a job finished by the so-called founders more than two centuries ago. The arts, humanities, and social sciences are not “finished” anymore than the sciences and engineering are.

    I hope that by fall we can have some good, well-articulated options to consider, while remembering that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

    Thanks again to the committee for its difficult and controversial work.

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