Ways of Thinking/Ways of Doing FAQ


Why is Stanford switching to the Ways of Thinking/Ways of Doing breadth system?
The Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford (SUES) recommended the change as a core part of its aims for a Stanford undergraduate education (owning knowledge, honing skills and capacities, developing personal and social responsibility, and adaptive learning). SUES and the Faculty Senate believed that undergraduate education would be better structured by shifting from a discipline-based to capacity-based model of achieving breadth. The Ways system is intended to complement and integrate with students’ experiences in the major. It recognizes the diversity of approaches to learning within any discipline and asks faculty to consider what approaches they are taking in a given class and in the overall approaches emphasized within a major. It also provides students with a more clearly articulated and meaningful rationale for breadth and more flexibility in selecting courses of interest in a wide array of fields.
SUES Report
Faculty Senate legislation for the Ways

What categories comprise the Ways?

1. Aesthetic and Interpretive Inquiry

2. Social Inquiry

3. Scientific Method and Analysis,

4. Formal Reasoning

5. Applied Quantitative Reasoning

6. Ethical Reasoning

7. Engaging Diversity

8. Creative Expression.

Detailed descriptions of each Way, its rationale, example learning outcomes, and how a student might fulfill the Way.

How many total courses must a student take?
Students must take a total of eleven courses: two courses each in Aesthetic and Interpretive Inquiry, Social Inquiry, and Scientific Method and Analysis; and one course each in Formal Reasoning, Applied Quantitative Reasoning, Ethical Reasoning, Engaging Diversity, and Creative Expression.

What is the difference between the old GER breadth system and the new Ways of Thinking/Ways of Doing breadth system?
The Ways system is designed to help all students gain essential skills or capacities during their time at Stanford. Students may select courses in varied fields across the university to attain these capacities. The GER breadth system required students to take one course in each of five broad disciplinary categories (humanities, natural science, social science, applied science and engineering, and math). In addition, students were required to take a course in two of four of the GER education for citizenship categories (American cultures, global communities, gender, or ethical reasoning).

What are the other general education requirements and how do the Ways relate to them?

  • Freshmen must take one Thinking Matters course designed to introduce first-year students to university-level approaches to learning through investigations of large or enduring questions. See description of program and course catalogue here. [NEW LINK]
  • Students must take two quarters of writing, one in the first year and one in the second year (plus one Writing in the Major course). See Program in Writing and Rhetoric information here.
    The foreign language requirement is three quarters of coursework or the equivalent. See Stanford Language Center.
    Thinking Matters courses may also fulfill Ways, but other requirements may not double-count.


When does the new system take effect?
Students who enter Stanford in the fall of 2013 (class of 2017) will be subject to the new breadth system. Students who entered prior to 2013 will continue to fulfill the old GER distribution breadth and education for citizenship requirements.

How will the Ways be communicated to students?
The Breadth Governance Board (BGB) and VPUE will be developing communication materials that emphasize the rationales and recommended approaches for students to complete the Ways. Materials and planning tools for print and web will be released in spring and summer 2013, as well as updates to Axess, ExploreDegrees, and ExploreCourses. Students will hear about the new system at Admit Weekend and New Student Orientation. We will also work with pre-major advisors, residential staff, and other key partners to communicate with students.

How is the Ways system governed?
The Faculty Senate legislation (here) defines the requirement and the role of the Breadth Governance Board (BGB), which reports to the Committee on Undergraduate Standards and Policies (C-USP). The BGB is responsible for defining the categories, establishing criteria, policies, and processes, and overseeing implementation, assessment, and exceptions. The Office of the Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education (VPUE) partners with the BGB to administer and support the Ways. The BGB is chaired and peopled by representative faculty from all three undergraduate schools and includes two student members appointed by the ASSU; ex officio members include representatives from the deans’ offices, C-USP, VPUE, and the Registrar’s Office. More information on the BGB.

Guidelines for Ways courses

What is the maximum number of  Ways for which a course can be registered?
A course may be certified to fulfill no more than two Ways. Although some courses may tap into more than two of the capacities, the course should devote sufficient attention to the capacity to ensure that students have the opportunities to practice and develop the skill in a meaningful way. A guiding question might be to ask yourself if this course would be appropriate as the only, or one of only two, course(s) that a student might experience in a particular Way.

How many units must a course be to fulfill a Way?
All Ways courses must be at least three units, with the exception of Creative Expression courses, which may be 2 units, or 1 unit if the student repeats the class in at least two quarters.

Does a course have to be taken for a grade to fulfill a Way?
Yes, with the exception of Creative Expression courses, for which the instructor may choose to designate S/NC.

Can students use one course to count for more than one Way?
No. There is no double-counting of Ways courses.

Can a course count for a Way and also a major or minor requirement?

How many of the sample learning outcomes should a course cover?
The BGB asks that courses fit the rationale for the Way and that they have at least one sample or custom learning outcome or course objective illustrating this Way; it does not insist that courses meet standardized learning outcomes. An instructor may select one or more of the sample learning outcomes in a given Way that fit the course. Faculty may also or instead choose to write their own course-specific learning outcome(s) or course objective(s).

Is it better to pick sample learning outcomes or write a custom learning outcome or course objective?
It is up to the instructor to determine her or his preference. The sample learning outcomes are necessarily fairly general; some faculty may prefer to write one or more specific outcomes. Instructors who prefer course objectives to learning outcomes should feel free to select this option instead. To provide feedback to the BGB and instructors about how well the new Ways categories are being registered and communicated, students will be asked after the course to indicate how well the course fit the designated outcome(s) or objective(s).

Guidelines for Departments and Programs

Which courses should be registered, and which ones don’t need to be?
While we expect that a large majority of undergraduate courses will fulfill a Way, departments should start by registering courses with few or no pre-requisites in a particular Way. For example, an engineering course that requires substantial Stanford coursework in math and physics is unlikely to be taken to fulfill the formal reasoning or scientific method and analysis Ways. There may be students, however, for whom it would be appropriate to fulfill a Way with a more advanced course (for instance because they entered Stanford earlier than 2013 but opt into the new system, or transferred from another institution).

What if some courses in our department/program are more appropriate to non-majors than others?
We are interested in designating both courses appropriate for non-majors and those which a student in a major might use to fulfill a Way. VPUE will be working on advising students about appropriate entry points and pathways, and will partner with departments to identify and communicate about these courses.

Who is responsible for designating which Way(s) a course fulfills and for registering it?
The instructor and department or program that owns a course will determine which Ways are a good fit with a particular course (in terms of the rationale and sample learning outcomes). Faculty or administrative staff may use the web tool to register courses or send a department roster of courses to the Breadth Governance Board.

Can faculty members decline to list a course under the new system?
Yes, faculty can choose not to list a course as fulfilling a breadth requirement, even if it appears to fit the requirement.

Can the Breadth Governance Board overrule a department or program’s designation of a course?
As long as a course fits the rationale and overall spirit of the_ Way(s)_ for which it is designated, the BGB will take a liberal and flexible approach. Where there are questions about a submission, the members of each Way team (those members whose teaching mostly closely aligns with a particular category) may follow up with instructors with questions. If these questions cannot be readily resolved or clarified, the entire BGB may review a course. While it is the prerogative of the BGB to define the categories and therefore some departmental and/or instructor designations may be over-ruled, we anticipate that this will be uncommon.

My department or program doesn’t have an undergraduate major (though we offer undergraduate courses, a minor, or honors program). Do we need to worry about the_ Ways_?
Since Ways designations will signal students what approaches a course will take and help guide them in their explorations, it’s a good idea consider whether your courses might fulfill any of the new Ways.

What is the responsibility of an Interdisciplinary Program for registering courses listed in our program?
IDPs will be responsible for registering courses that they own. For cross-listed courses, the owning department or program will be responsible. We encourage IDPs to consult with their affiliated faculty about which Ways are appropriate not only to the course and departmental major, but also to IDP aims.

What if I don’t have a syllabus for a course yet? Can I still register it? Can we include something less prescriptive than a syllabus?
Yes. The BGB will need to see sufficient description of the course to determine if it fits the rationale and spirit of the Way, but a final syllabus need not be ready for the initial registration process.

What if a course is taught by more than one instructor at different times or the syllabus changes from year to year?
If the course will continue to meet the rationale and spirit of the Way for which it is designated, changes in instructor or details of the syllabus are fine. If, however, a course is substantially different from offering to offering, the department might consider adding a suffix to the course number and designating Ways appropriate to each iteration.

Will there be support for developing a new course or revising an old one to fit one of the Ways?
Yes. For informal consultation, you can talk with a member of the BGB Ways team in your area of interest (see here for list of teams). The Center for Teaching and Learning offers support in course development through its professional staff (see here). You may also apply to one of VPUE’s curriculum development grant programs (see here) or check with your school dean’s office for additional sources of support. Finally, VPUE will be instituting specific curriculum development programs in areas where there are capacity concerns (e.g. creative expression, ethical reasoning, and engaging diversity); watch for forthcoming RFPs. To receive future communications about these programs, please email Shari Palmer.

I am interested in offering a course that fits the Ethical Reasoning or Creative Expression, but this is not my area of expertise. What kinds of support are available?
See above. We anticipate developing several programs in these areas. To receive future communications about these programs, please email Shari Palmer.

Who can I go to with questions?
If none of the materials here or at the BGB website here answers your questions, you can contact a member of the BGB Ways team in your area of interest (see here for list of teams) or email waysofthinking@stanford.edu.