campus partner(s)

Brown University






Fresh Thinking

award date


project director

Katherine Bergeron

Brown University

Grant Summary

$98,245 over 12 months. An "open curriculum" that emphasizes student choice, exploration, and discovery constitutes an important alternative tradition in American higher education. In light of recent debates about the purposes of liberal education, it is timely to assess what has been learned from this tradition of innovation and to formulate the challenge that it offers to conventional approaches. The lack of a coherently articulated explanation of the values of this tradition has prevented its assumptions and purposes from being recognized and debated with the precision, rigor, and intelligence that a serious discussion of the purposes of liberal education deserves.

A working group of representatives from a small set of colleges where the open curriculum thrives will summarize and compare what they have learned in more than forty years of experimentation. Led by Brown University, where granting students the freedom to craft their programs of study is a cornerstone of the curriculum, the working group will bring together institutions with open curricula of various kinds. Institutions that have expressed an interest in participating include Amherst, Smith, Wesleyan, Hampshire, Evergreen, New College, Sarah Lawrence, and Antioch. The goals of the project are: to explain the assumptions and aims of such a curriculum by studying the various ways in which it has been imagined and implemented on different campuses; to identify what other institutions can learn from these pedagogical and curricular reforms whether or not they adopt all of the features of an open curriculum; and to develop assessment measures that will evaluate the concrete outcomes of this curriculum for several generations of graduates in order to test its claims.