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Interdisciplinary Studies in Letters & Science (ISLS)

2005-2006 Cycle


What is ISLS?

A Three-Semester Program of Study in General Education

ISLS is an adventure in the world of ideas.  It is a program for college students to explore the interrelationship of various fields of learning, a program of reading, writing, discussion, and independent inquiry leading to knowledge.

The organizing principle of Interdisciplinary Studies in Letters & Science is at once daring and sensible: The ISLS student is responsible for her or his own education. This responsibility includes a commitment to learning, an involvement in ideas, and a desire for personal growth. The program extends to each student the opportunity to become educated through studying relevant materials, considering the perspectives of a diverse community of students, and experiencing tutorial instruction in an intellectual climate where good books, exciting ideas and critical inquiry are valued.

ISLS is an approach to undergraduate education as old as Socrates and as new as computer technology. The three-semester curriculum covers many of the general education requirements for graduation from Chabot College and for transfer to a four-year college or university. Students receive 12 to 13 units of credit per semester, totaling 36-40 units over the entire program. Completion of this program fulfills many lower division general education requirements in five disciplines: humanities, English, social sciences, physical sciences, and biological sciences. The course of study emphasizes the interrelation of ideas in all five subject areas in such a way that each semester forms an integral unit of study, and three semesters constitute a sequential development of ideas, skills and understanding. The ISLS classes, with an enrollment of 120 students, make up a program lasting the entire three semesters. Students should commit themselves to the full program.

The ISLS instructors consider themselves co-learners as well as tutors. Instruction is carried on in four ways: (1) four one-and-one-half hour sessions, led by one or more of the tutors, make up six hours a week of group lecture-discussion in which all students and tutors participate; (2) six additional hours each week in small group discussions where each of the tutors continues the examination of the ideas introduced in large group; (3) private tutorials in which a student and tutor meet individually; and, (4) weekly colloquia (ISLS 9) with guest speakers to explore topical concepts and ideas in a different way. After the first semester, each student has a different tutor every half-semester and a random mix of other students for small group discussion. Attendance at both the large-group lecture and small-group discussion sessions is required, as is attendance at at least half of the colloquium sessions (ISLS 9).

The heart of the instructional method is careful analysis of primary source material in each subject area. Students read the works of authors such as Shakespeare, Darwin, and Marx rather than books about them. Students discover they can master challenging works through the methods of dialogue, close examination of the text, and structural analysis. Students are required to write a full-length analytical paper on each text. The students' writing should convey independent discoveries derived from an intimate association with the work, rather than responses to what others have said or written about it. We expect essays to be original work, based on primary sources.

The success of Interdisciplinary Studies in Letters and Science lies in three essential elements:

  1. Community: membership in a group of inquirers to share intellectual growth and enthusiasm.
  2. Intellectual Challenge: a chance to investigate the most fundamental and exciting works in five academic disciplines, and some of the creative thinking that has significantly affected human civilization.
  3. Personalized Instruction: the opportunity to develop skills and understanding under the close supervision of tutors who have the time and freedom to instruct each student.


What Materials are Studied in the Program?

Works chosen from five academic areas are studied in depth each semester by all students. The tutor from each discipline is responsible for coordinating and enriching instruction from the text; secondary sources or background material are seldom required. Works studied are selected from primary documents of the world's political, social, scientific and cultural heritage. Although changes occur from one program to the next, students will analyze works such as those on the reading list. Precise lists will be given to the students each semester. Feel free to see past course calendars and reading lists or check out the reading list for the current and following semesters.


The Instructor Team





 Don Skiles (Coordinator)



Julie Segedy



 Susan Sperling



 Joe Berland

(Spring 2005)



 Scott Hildreth

 (Autumn 2005- Spring 2006)



ISLS Counselor




 Naoma Mize



Dean of the Language Arts Division




 Tom DeWit (Dean)



Language Arts Division Office





How ISLS Works

Discussion is the heart of the ISLS day. Study is undertaken in modules rather than in a sequence of concurrent courses. Students and instructors meet at 9:00 AM on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings for 1½ hours in a large lecture hall, where one instructor directs the study of a work in his or her field for a two or three week period. Class often begins with students sharing their responses to the assigned reading and continues with analysis of the text. After a short break, students and instructors reassemble at 10:30 in small discussion groups where a more intensive study of the work is pursued. The formal part of an ISLS day usually concludes at noon.

The typical instructional day varies to suit the material under study. For example, discussion of writing assignments or student papers may occur in the small group. Tutors may present art slides or an analysis of poetry; a guest speaker may be invited. Scheduled trips to attend theater and special exhibits, and to visit museums or planetariums may also be scheduled.

ISLS students receive credit for laboratory experience. Laboratory sessions will be available at varying times to accommodate student schedules. Students must plan their schedules to include one required lab class as part of the ISLS program. The choice of lab time is made in class within ISLS and not at the registration desk.

Students need to remember that studying any one work using this modular plan is the equivalent of not one but four courses. This requires the energy and time demanded by four courses: at least three hours of study for each hour in class and 18 hours overall each week. Therefore, no more than one other course outside ISLS should be taken during the semester.



The Colloquium (ISLS 9) is scheduled as one two-hour session each Tuesday from 1:00 to 2:50 p.m. Colloquium is a 1-unit requirement that enriches the ISLS experience. Students, tutors and at times guest speakers pursue interests such as music, architecture, art, mathematics or poetry and discuss current events, using the methods of analysis developed in the program. Topics reflect developing student interests and abilities.


Who Should Enroll

ISLS is designed for the following individuals:

  • Two-year college students who want a solid foundation in education for the A.A. degree.
  • Transfer students who desire a broad base in several disciplines before continuing studies in an area of academic specialization.
  • Liberal arts or humanities majors who desire an introduction in depth to the roots of our culture.

There is no typical student in the ISLS program, nor is there a test to identify such a student. The potentially successful student enjoys reading, whether it be material assigned in class or of personal interest, and finds ideas exciting but may be dissatisfied with regular classroom programs. He or she asks probing questions and experiences a sense of wonder about the universe and the creations of the human mind. Such a student values learning with a friendly group of students and teachers in an informal environment. The student may or may not have chosen a major but plans to complete most of the general education requirements in this program before specializing.


Student Responsibilities

  1. The student must volunteer for the program. The student must take the English placement test and be interviewed by one of the ISLS instructors.
  2. The student must attend all large and small group discussions, conferences and laboratories and have a final conference with the tutor at the end of each semester.
  3. The student must prepare the readings in depth. Since this skill may be new to many students, each must have the determination to invest many hours of serious study without the traditional motivations of quizzes and grades. At least three hours of study are necessary for each hour in the classroom.
  4. The student is expected to analyze each work assigned and to prepare, organize and write a complete paper on some aspect of that work. The student may be asked to discuss the paper in a private conference with the tutor and in most cases to make revisions. Students may be asked to read and evaluate papers by others in their tutorial group.
  5. The student should be prepared to commit three semesters to this program. However, students who find it necessary to leave the program prior to its completion or who, in the judgment of the faculty, are not able to benefit from this program, may re-enter the regular college courses at certain points in the curriculum.
  6. The student who wants an A.A. degree must take additional courses outside the ISLS program in the areas of physical education, health, mathematics and social science. Physical education may be taken at the same time as ISLS, but most additional requirements should be completed before or after the ISLS program.
  7. The student must arrange outside employment schedules to conform to ISLS class requirements and the time necessary to prepare for those classes.



In ISLS the emphasis is on learning rather than on competition for grades. Grades are assigned based on the success of individual papers and overall contribution to the program. Attendance is required and timely submission of all essay drafts and revisions is factored into the grade. Final grades are determined collaboratively by the tutor team. The student transcript will reflect grades in particular courses, such as English 1A or History 1, which correspond to the course of study in a particular semester. Students doing poor work will be encouraged to drop with a “W” rather than to incur the penalty of  12 or 13 units with  “D” or “F” grades.


Obtaining an A.A. Degree

Thirty-seven semester units in general education are accumulated upon completion of ISLS 1A, 1B and 1C. One unit per semester, a total of three units, is earned by enrollment in ISLS 9, the colloquium. ISLS students who want to obtain an A.A. degree must take a few additional courses. Students should consult the College Catalog, the counseling fliers and the ISLS counselor to plan the additional courses required for graduation.


Transferring to a Four-Year College

All credits earned in ISLS are transferable to all campuses of the University of California and the California State University systems, as well as most private universities and colleges. Specific additional course work in mathematics, speech, foreign language, and/or the student's major may be required. Students should consult the ISLS counselor for further information. ISLS provides a valuable background for majors in humanities, history and literature and for professions such as teaching and law. Because it explores the philosophy of science, the program is a prelude to study in the sciences or mathematics. An ISLS student who intends to major in the physical or biological sciences will not be able to complete lower division requirements within the two year period during the ISLS program. Similarly, students interested in nursing, business and other two-year programs cannot finish their studies during the ISLS program. However, many students have opted to delay enrolling in such programs in order to enjoy the benefits of ISLS.


Financial Assistance

College-wide financial assistance programs are available to all students. An ISLS fund may provide money for textbooks. Students may apply by inquiry to a tutor after entering the program.

How This Program Enables You to Become a Better Writer

Writing is integral to all college work. The process that begins in the large discussion group and continues intensively in the small discussion group is completed when the student writes an analytical paper on a particular aspect of the work. These papers, along with other written and oral assignments, become a tangible record of progress in the student's ability to read, think and write effectively.

Although intuitive responses to the artist's creation are valuable, the student is encouraged to discover the underlying order which binds the work together. An ISLS paper presents evidence of the student's insights, which also convey the student's intellectual understanding of the work.

Each semester, students write at least five analytical papers. Tutors work with discussion groups on preparation and revision. Students share papers in small groups, after which the tutor reads each paper and makes comments, raises questions and evaluates the organization and presentation of ideas. Papers are not given letter grades. Students are invited to confer with their tutors about papers, which may undergo several revisions.


Does this program sound just right for you?

To apply for an ISLS interview, or for more information, fill out our online registration interest form, or contact an ISLS tutor or counselor on-campus. Enrollment is limited to 120 students.

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    Phone: (510) 723-6600 | Last updated on 4/25/2013