New English Curriculum Provides Innovative Approach to Learning

In the new program, students study English literature within the context of genres instead of the traditional historical approach.

Professor of English Dan Stiffler
Professor of English Dan Stiffler

In the new program, students study English literature within the context of genres instead of the traditional historical approach…

Survey courses, long a staple of undergraduate English programs, offer students a sampling of authors and works within an historical time period. For English majors, they form the foundation of the work necessary to acquire a degree.

Randolph College is about to rewrite the book on learning about English literature.

The changes were sparked by the English department faculty recognizing three trends: more students were expressing interest in the creative writing emphasis; creative writing students were taking historical survey courses, which did not serve their needs well; and the students in the creative writing and literature emphasis areas were not learning together—even though they were all English majors.

“Our students did not work together until their senior seminar,” said Dan Stiffler, a professor of English. “We decided to integrate the learning experience for creative writing and literature students.”

After a six-year process of thought and planning, and plenty of input from students already in the program, an innovative new English program rolled out at the beginning of this semester.

In the new program, students study English literature within the context of genres instead of the traditional historical approach that is often presented in anthologies published by Norton, for example.

To ensure that all English majors have an understanding of the creative process—whether they intend to write or analyze English literature—students are required to complete Introduction to Creative Writing. They also complete three core courses dealing with poetry, prose, fiction, and drama. The core courses are designed to provide a basic understanding of English literature, reveal the structure of literary expression, and help students develop skills in critical analysis and creative expression. Students select their advanced courses in three categories: genre or mode; period, topic, or movement; and author(s). Within the categories, they will find, for example, existing courses, such as Magical Realism, a world literature course; courses that have been refocused, such as The Concord Circle, about the discourses of Romanticism; and new courses, such as Inspired by the Sea, about the sea not only as a setting but also as a transnational theory.

The changes in the English program have spun off four new minors: drama, fiction, literature, and poetry. The minors provide English majors, and all Randolph students, with an opportunity to delve into specific genres in which they are interested.

“We’re excited about this fresh approach that offers our students a variety of tantalizing ways to engage literature and learn from it,” said Heidi M. Kunz, chair of the English department.