Nov 11, 2011
SSO Curriculum Recognized as Model of Best Practice
posted under NEWS STORY
Oxford, United Kingdom - A monograph to be published by the National Collegiate Honors Council has recognized the Scholars' Semester in Oxford's curriculum as a model of best practice in honors and international education. A description of the program will be included in the NCHC's monograph on model honors study abroad courses. Best Practices in Honors International Education, the monograph's working title, will also feature an article on pedagogy in study abroad programs by Elizabeth Baigent, SSO senior tutor and associate director.
"[SSO] is a rich program that encourages academic rigor. We challenge and encourage students to go beyond their existing achievements," said SSO Director Stan Rosenberg.
Designed for those who want to study intensively, the Scholars' Semester helps students develop writing and research skills while exploring their individual interests. The program accommodates each student's academic interests and requirements, featuring concentrations in classics, English language and literature, history, history of art, modern languages, musicology, philosophy, psychology, and theology. SSO students enroll in a primary and secondary tutorial, an integrative seminar or thesis, and a British studies core course but are able to build their own programs of study within each concentration.
Studying at Oxford allows students to grow in a system that can be profoundly different from that which is found in the United States. Critical thinking, research, and writing are the principal focal points and are developed through questioning and wide reading. Central to SSO is the tutorial, which lies at the heart of undergraduate teaching at Oxford. Tutorials are weekly, hour-long conversations between a tutor who is engaged in research in the field and a student who has spent the week reading before writing a paper that answers a probing question. The discussion between the tutor and student focuses on how the student came to his or her conclusion and is less concerned with whether the student's argument is the same as the tutor's.
"Because this is a dynamic process, I can learn from my students in the tutorial while they also learn from me," reflected Rosenberg. "We encourage them to take risks and stretch themselves as they develop their own voice as a writer and a thinker." Students know that in the tutorial they must be able to defend criticisms of the argument they have presented in their paper and often end up qualifying or even abandoning their original position in a process that fosters both critical thinking and intellectual flexibility. SSO students produce approximately 150 pages in 15-16 essays over the course of one term, working only from research materials, which are readily available through Oxford's extensive libraries.
SSO recognizes that being placed in a new system of learning can be challenging. One way in which the program helps students to adapt is by helping students develop a strong community life within their residences. Hospitality groups are formed, meals shared, and academic and spiritual life is debated at the main house. This vibrant community life gives students a broad support network as they manage the transition to Oxford.
As Registered Visiting Students of the University, SSO students also have enhanced privileges and opportunities. This status allows SSO students to fully participate in the academic and social life of Oxford and use all its support facilities. Though SSO focuses on writing and research, exploration is also part of the program. Academic field trips are regularly scheduled to sites such as Bath, Portsmouth, Hampton Court, and Winchester, while less formal visits are made to places such London, Dorchester, the Lake District, and Wales. From time to time faculty lead trips to continental Europe to visit such places as Rome, Ravenna, Bologna, Auschwitz, and Venice.
Most of the 55 students who study at the Scholars' Semester are students in the humanities and social sciences, though all majors may apply. Applicants must have a 3.5 GPA and are generally honors students. The Scholars' Semester's ultimate goal is to see its students go on to the graduate school or profession best suited to each person. Its students leave well prepared and often enroll in the very best schools in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Recognition for its curriculum is an honor for SSO, but the program does not want to rest on its laurels. "Just like a good bit of research, you have never fully answered the questions," said Rosenberg. "Doing study abroad is a craft. We must constantly revise and reflect. But, if other study abroad programs can gain something valuable from what we are currently doing, then we are glad to be recognized."
About the CCCU: The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities is a higher education association of 185 intentionally Christ-centered institutions around the world. The 113 member campuses in North America are all fully-accredited, comprehensive colleges and universities with curricula rooted in the arts and sciences. In addition, 72 affiliate campuses from 25 countries are part of the CCCU. The Council's mission is to advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education and to help its institutions transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth. Visit www.cccu.org.