Seminar in the Social Sciences. Higher Education Projects

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Project classes do not always have titles but this seminar proposes to create a “The Natural history of the Carnegie credit hour.”

Like an  “acre” where a scope of work (an area ploughed in a day by two oxen) became a unit of area, the credit hour has become its own self evident measure of time, controlling a student’s passage to graduation, faculty workload, institutional resource allocation, college accreditation, federal funding distributions and much else besides. How does this ubiquitous measure advance learning in the United States, how might it retard innovation?

This seminar will create a natural history of the unit because, firstly, there is not one.  After an initial flurry to define a credit hour, mainly by the Carnegie Foundation at the turn of the 19th century there has been surprising little writing about how it came into being, or the effects of its extraordinary multiplication across the face of higher education in the United States in the first decade of the 20th century. There is no book on the subject and few articles. The Cooper Union was an early adopter, perhaps because of Carnegie’s own personal interest in us and certainly because of the way Abraham Hewitt was tied into the currents of educational reform as judged by his correspondence with Nicholas Murray Butler. (founder of columbia's teacher college 1887 and also of the College Entrance Examination board 1899). Part of the work of the seminar will be to pursue and document that history engaging perhaps the student archive club in the process.  Another need for a “natural” history is to develop an ecology of the surrounding environment that produced the unit at the turn of the 19th century and to see how it had changed by the turn of the 20th. What populations are judged to benefit from its continued existence? How has student “work” changed in the intervening century and beyond. Has the need for transferability increased? What advantage accrues from its maintenance? How is technology disrupting the passage of classroom seat time? What nostrums have been advanced and fallen away in the intervening years. What alternative models of measuring student achievement can be envisaged.

These may be some of the questions engaging students in the project class but with all  project classes so organized not all of the necessary material and only some of the questions can be anticipated in advance.  The seminar will proceed through building an archived site of work and resources, through group collaboration, through invited guest contributors both from inside Cooper and without.  The amount of “finished” writing required remains the same as other electives.

Credits: 3.00

Course Code: SS 318 L

Instructor(s): Peter Buckley

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.