Learner Centered Curricula

Richard Fliegel, Ph.D.
(213) 740-2961
Email: fliegel@usc.edu

Collaborative Learning Projects (CLP) and Individual Programs of Study (IPOS)

A research university provides many opportunities for undergraduates to learn in settings that suit a wide variety of learning styles, talents and professional aspirations. Beyond the classroom lie opportunities for individual and collaborative research projects, creative literary work, the plastic and performing arts, service learning and internships, distance and distributive learning, overseas study and a range of other activities. To track an idea from its genesis in research to its application as the solution of a contemporary problem, students must be able to take advantage of all these learning modalities.

For that reason, the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences offers two curricular structures that enable non-traditional learning experiences to be credited across institutions. In both of these options, students work with a faculty committee to create individual learning opportunities suited to their personal academic interests and professional aspirations. The first allows self-motivated, independent learners to combine resources in a particularly rich learning experience, while the second promotes collaborative learning across several aligned modalities.

Collaborative Learning Projects

The USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences offers a curricular construct (MDA 460) designed to promote collaborative learning. Two or more students may propose a research project or other collaborative program, with specified learning objectives; a faculty committee will review each proposal to decide if it comprises a well-conceived educational experience and determine the unit values to be awarded, either collectively or to each student who participates. Collaborative Learning Projects award only credit or no credit grades.

Individual Programs of Study

Individual Programs of Study (IPOS) allow individual students to design a “curriculum” of 2 to 18 units, including directed research, service learning and internships, creative artistic production and any other educational experiences that might be relevant to the proposed academic program.

An Individual Program of Study (MDA 450) might be created for an entire semester’s work, including directed research, an internship and a distance learning course. Or, a more modest proposal might include 4 units of original artwork plus service learning.

Individual Programs of Study encourage students to design educational experiences that inspire them, prompting a profound engagement with a learning environment ideally suited to their individual talents. Individual Programs of Study may include a wider array of educational contexts, experiences and opportunities for nontraditional learning than are generally available for credit at most institutions of higher education. Individual Programs of Study are letter graded.

Review Process

Students who are interested in proposing either an Individual Program of Study or a Collaborative Learning Project must complete an application that includes:

1. A full description of the project, including information about all courses, internships, and other academic activities that will be involved;

2. A statement explaining why these activities could not be accomplished within the context of existing course work and directed research;

3. A proposal for assessing the work that is to be completed for the project beyond that associated with graded courses;

4. The endorsement of a faculty member who will serve as sponsor for the project. This faculty member will typically lead directed research associated with the project and award the final grade for the entire project;

5. A sign-off from the student’s major department is also required; and

6. The student’s STARS report and transfer credit statement, if transfer courses are relevant.

These materials will be reviewed by three faculty members comprising an Independent Study Committee, which will consider the student’s academic record and decide whether to allow the project, how many units to award and other relevant conditions.

Members of the Independent Study Committee are appointed by the vice dean of academic programs of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences for an academic year; they consult with a representative of the Registrar’s Office on articulating credits. If a member of the committee wishes to serve as the sponsor for a project, the vice dean will appoint an alternate to serve on the committee and consider that student’s proposal.

Credits count as elective units, unless individual departments choose to apply some or all of the units toward major or minor requirements. A student may count no more than 18 units toward the degree through a combination of Individual Programs of Study and Collaborative Learning Projects. Upon completion of the project, the student’s transcript reads “Individual Program of Study” or “Collaborative Learning Project,” with the units awarded and the titles of any courses included in the program. See Multidisciplinary Activities for MDA 450 and MDA 460 course descriptions.