Ways of Thinking

At the heart of a Liberal Arts education is a comittment to the value of breadth of learning. In order to ensure breadth across the curriculum, we are requiring students to take courses with different methodological approaches. There are five Ways of Thinking that students will be required to take a class in each Way of Thinking. While closely associated with our administrative divisions, these Ways of Thinking capture the conceptual distinctions among the different methodologies and perspectives we believe are important for students to learn. It’s possible (and probable) that departments will offer distinct courses that can meet more than one Way of Thinking. (For one example, a creative writing course from the English department would meet Artistic Creation and Interpretation and a Shakespeare course in English would meet The Human Experience.) 

Abstract Structures

This Way of Thinking focuses on formal and symbolic representations of objects, structures and/or experiences. Through this focus, this Way of Thinking examines such representations and the relationships between them, and explores ways that formal and symbolic models can be applied to a range of more concrete examples and situations. Abstract reasoning by its nature requires unambiguous, systematic, and/or well-defined rules for the creation and manipulations of symbols and relationships.

Students will focus on developing representations (numeric, symbolic, graphical, and otherwise) and rules. These courses will refine students’ manipulation and understanding of those representations and rules appropriate to the subject being studied. As Abstract
Structures model objects, structures and relationships, a course would be expected to cultivate students’ abilities to move fluently between these abstract representations/models and the concrete examples (and/or simpler abstractions) they represent. Examples of Abstract Structures include but are not limited to: music theory; symbolization and evaluation of the validity of arguments; analysis and composition of algorithms and computer programs; analysis and development of mathematical models; linguistic analysis; deductive arguments and formal proofs.

Artistic Expression

This Way of Thinking includes the making, performance, and/or examination of artistic works through a lens of direct engagement with individual pieces of art. An experiential and critical understanding of artistic ways of thinking emerges from three sources: the process of moving from creative impulse to artistically informed production; the direct engagement with artistic expression, with focused consideration of relevant art form(s), style(s), and/or context(s); and intentional reflection on the experience of the work of art. Artistic knowledge, whether as artistic creation, contextual understanding, or critical reflection, will most successfully emerge from multiple experiences of this process, allowing students to discover and communicate their thoughts.

Students will directly engage with individual works of art in these courses. This engagement may be by creating original works, performing existing works, or through the examination of art works from the critical perspectives used by professional arts critics, arts theorists, and arts historians who examine historical or contemporary art forms primarily as art works. As a way of thinking, Artistic Expression may be cultivated through studio-, performance-, or workshop- based courses, including individual lessons; or through studies relating to the criticism or theory of the fine arts.

Human Experience

This Way of Thinking seeks to recognize and understand how humans have represented and constructed the human experience, and to thereby empower students as critical and creative agents in their own lives and communities. This Way of Thinking is the study of how human beings use texts, in different times and places, to understand, represent, and shape their world, and their experience of that world. Students will investigate, interpret, and analyze texts such as written works, spoken language, visual images, film, song, performance, or other cultural artifacts, in order to explore how human engagement with the world constructs meaning and shapes particular social and historical contexts. Particular attention will be paid to the ways in which elements of expression are influenced by their place and period of production.

Students will explore human efforts to make sense of the world around them and the ways in which those efforts shape the human experience. This Way of Thinking recognizes that human experience may involve textual engagement with community, internal life, the natural world, and/or the past and future. Key to engaging this process is the act of writing, in which students learn to reflect, refine, focus, and clarify their own analysis as active participants in making meaning of the world around them.

Natural World

This Way of Thinking examines the structures and interactions within the natural world. The natural world comprises the physical universe, both living and non-living, as well as the forces that act on it. This empirical mode of inquiry relies on constructing hypotheses and testing them with data collected through observation and experimentation to learn about the natural world.

Students will distinguish between inquiry that aims at empirical knowledge and other forms of human inquiry and knowing. These courses will enable students to have a deeper understanding of the natural world and prepare students to evaluate scientific claims critically through an appeal to factual evidence. These courses are accompanied by lab periods where students will make observations, collect data, appropriately analyze their results, and communicate their findings.

Social World

This Way of Thinking uses the scientific method to examine and understand social phenomena, such as, human behavior, cognition, and how institutions, structures, and norms shape human behavior. This way of thinking involves both qualitative and quantitative research methods. The ultimate goal of such work is to draw generalizable conclusions about societies, institutions, groups, and individuals that are valid beyond the context of the research.

Students in these courses will consider theories, learn basic social scientific methods, and engage with social scientific evidence to describe the world and test ideas about societies, institutions, groups, and/or individuals.