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IDEAs in Action curriculum to be continued, improved in 2023-24 academic year

UNC students walk through Polk Place on Feb. 27, 2023.

The IDEAs in Action curriculum, which started in the 2022 fall semester for first-year and transfer students, will be continued into the next academic year alongside additions to the current requirements.

Replacing the previous Making Connections General Education curriculum adopted in 2006, IDEAs in Action aims to create lifelong learners, according to the University's website.

Various first-year requirements were added under IDEAs in Action. These include a Triple-I (Ideas, Information and Inquiry) course and co-requisite Data Literacy Lab, a College Thriving class and a First-Year Seminar or First-Year Launch.

Triple-I is a First-Year Foundations course where three professors from different departments teach on a common theme. The Data Literacy Lab is an asynchronous one-credit course, giving students the opportunity to work with data sets that align with their Triple-I course, according to the IDEAs in Action website.

Nick Siedentop, the curriculum director at the Office of Undergraduate Curricula, said that students in Triple-I appreciated the exposure to various disciplines.

While 14 different Triple-I courses were offered during the 2022-23 school year, he said that 16 courses will be offered during the next academic year.

“I think what's going to be interesting is to see how this might change what a student goes on to pursue, what kinds of courses they end up taking in their second year or third year or what majors or minors they're interested in and pursue,” Siedentop said. “We're going to keep making sure we're tracking that information to see where students go after this type of experience.”

However, Siedentop said there are areas in the curriculum that can continue to grow and improve.

He said that a workshop will be hosted this summer for instructors who will be teaching Triple-I courses in the fall to identify activities that better connect courses to learning outcomes. Potential improvements include better standardization among the Triple-I sections and stronger connections between the Triple-I topics and Data Literacy Lab data sets. 

Siedentop said he is also pleased with the introduction of IDST 101: College Thriving,  where students discuss campus-wide resources and programs of study through a Thrive Advisor and in a smaller classroom setting.

The University will continue to hire more Thrive Advisors for next year’s College Thriving coursework, he added.

Another requirement for incoming students is the First-Year Seminar. 

Siedentop said that seminars were not a requirement for newly admitted students prior to fall 2022, although they did exist in previous years. Working in small groups with faculty members allows for active learning opportunities and an equitable education, he said.

Stefan Jeglinski is a teaching associate professor in the department of physics and astronomy. He teaches a seminar called Physics 55: Introduction to Mechatronics, which covers topics related to robotics, artificial intelligence, design and engineering. 

According to Jeglinski, students in the course discuss the intersection of how the “brave new world” of interconnectedness, artificial intelligence and computing clash with human civilization. He coined this concept “social mechatronics." 

“I talk about the history of computing," Jeglinski said. "I look to the past. I look to the future. Students get everything from exposure to electronics, programming, neural networks, robotics, design and building."

Jeglinski said First-Year Seminars like Introduction to Mechatronics can help make learning about these topics more accessible for students coming from different academic backgrounds. 

Incoming students may also take a First-Year Launch instead of a seminar. 

Last semester, sophomore Christopher Kaufman enrolled in a First-Year Launch section for Applied Sciences 110: Introduction to Design and Making: Developing Your Personal Design Potential, taught by Professor of the Practice Glenn Walters. Kaufman enrolled in order to fulfill a general education Focus Capacity within IDEAs in Action.

Throughout the semester, Kaufman said he had hands-on interactions with UNC’s BeAM Makerspace network, delving into techniques like laser cutting and 3D printing, which culminated in a final group project to create a product. 

"I was thoroughly surprised with the complexity and integration of the BeAM Makerspaces within the course," he said.

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Kaufman also said a large part of the course was not just building the product, but also being able to market it. 

"It's not just, 'What kind of project can we create?'” Kaufman said. “It's what kind of project that we can create that has usability, feasibility, can be made at a cheap price and that was a large aspect of Professor Walters' curriculum.”

Overall, Kaufman said he believes the Launch format helped expose him to other disciplines at UNC. 

“While (Applied Sciences 110) was a class that I had to take, I ended up enjoying it a lot because it was different than a regular base class and it really flexed those creative muscles,” he said.