Fast Links: EXECUTIVE SUMMARY (pdf) | THE ISSUES | RATIONALE | THE PROGRAM | FIRST-YEAR SEMINAR | THEMATIC COURSEWORK | SELECTED STUDENT COHORTS | SUPPORT | IMPLEMENTATION | ASSESSMENT | CONNECTIONS | APPENDIX (pdf) |
General Education has a long history, infused with intent, as it was “inspired by the work of John Dewey and other turn-of -the- twentieth-century progressives [and] focused on the integration of knowledge for [the] purposes of engagement with the problems of contemporary civilization.” (Brint et al., 2009) In contemporary culture the terms “liberal education” and “general education” are often used interchangeably.
Despite its historical intent, the current general education program at SUNY Fredonia, known as the CCC (College Core Curriculum), is perceived by faculty and students alike simply as a list of requirements to be completed by the end of a college career without any continuity or overarching purpose. (Middle States Review 2009, Ad Hoc Gen Ed Review 2010)
What we are proposing herein is a vision of general education at SUNY Fredonia that would hearken back to the original intent of general education, while simultaneously serving to: (1) meet SUNY Central requirements; (2) aid in the seamless transfer of students; (3) respond to noted issues within our current CCC program; (4) incorporate design elements proposed and supported by faculty and departments on our campus; (5) integrate documented educational methodologies, which are proven high-impact practices associated with high levels of student engagement and learning; and (6) provide our institution a general education program that is progressive, visionary, unique and connected to our mission and identity.
Based upon information provided by a number of institutional reviews that have occurred in recent years (see references), as well as on-going assessments of our current general education program (the CCC), the following issues have been noted. With regard to its basic structure:
More importantly, with regard to imparting the skills and knowledge commonly associated with a general education program, we note that our students generally lack the ability to:
The issues related to the skills and abilities of our students is most disconcerting since recent studies (Humphreys 2006; Hart Research Assoc., 2009; Apollo Research Institute, 2011) indicate that the skills most needed by students entering the workplace are those that our current general education program is not providing, namely:
While students need a depth of understanding within their major field of study, we must also understand that numerous studies have shown that our students are likely to change jobs, and even careers, 7-10 times over the course of their working lives. (Hart Research Assoc., 2010) To succeed in such a changing landscape requires the skills and capabilities that should be provided through the general education curricula. (Hart Research Assoc., 2010; Humphreys 2006)
The design and educational methodologies utilized by a general educational program are an inherent determining factor in the ability of that program to provide the skill-set needed by the students it is intended to serve. A recent study of educational experts (Welch, 2003), as well as a national study of employers (Hart Research Assoc., 2010), both identified thematically-linked courses as providing the essential skills needed by graduates owing to their interdisciplinary exploration of an issue, problem or idea. Furthermore, Kun (2008) has acknowledged thematically-linked courses, as well as first-year interdisciplinary seminar courses, as high impact practices, which lead to high levels of student learning, engagement and retention. With regard to program assessment, a number of recent studies (Cambridge, 2008; Hart Research Assoc., 2008) have indicated that e-portfolios provide a better evaluation instrument of student learning outcomes than standardized tests or other metrics.
Based upon the issues noted in our current general education program, the documented needs of our students upon successful completion of their undergraduate degree, and the established educational methodologies that can best achieve those needs, we are proposing a carefully and consciously re-designed general education program for SUNY Fredonia. As we explored and developed this vision, members of our committee investigated approaches embodied at other institutions, researched learning outcomes and the effects of different approaches to general education on the achievement of those learning outcomes; we learned about factors which affect student attainment and the characteristics of our students and our institution. Our recommendations, therefore, are not drawn out of a group discussion occurring in a vacuum, nor are they limited to our personal perspectives and agendas. Our recommended framework represents the conclusions of how best to design and implement a positive, productive and meaningful curricular innovation within the general education program at SUNY Fredonia.
IV.a. SUNY GENERAL EDUCATION REQUIREMENTS
SUNY Fredonia is part of the SUNY system and, thus, must abide by the General Education Requirements (GER) approved by the SUNY Board of Trustees. These requirements are currently summarized as the ‘7/10/30’ model: students must earn 30 credits in 7 out of 10 disciplinary areas. More specifically, these requirements are summarized as follows:
We propose the development of a unique, campus-specific approach to the general education requirements dictated by SUNY Central, but are not requesting any campus-specific requirements in excess of SUNY Central guidelines.
Educational research indicates that such in-depth approaches to general education courses, rather than the breadth approaches of most introductory coursework, are more engaging for the students and increase critical thinking skills.
These courses may be offered as single courses or as clusters of 2 classes. Thus, this 18-credit requirement could be satisfied by taking: (i) 6-indivdual courses, (ii) 4-individual courses and 1 course cluster, (iii) 2-individual course and 2 course clusters, or (iv) 3 course clusters. Throughout this process students will continue to populate and maintain their e-portfolio.
Currently many programs offer first-year seminar courses for their majors. The seminar course proposed herein is intended to serve a different primary purpose from those currently offered. There are three distinct goals for this course and student participation in it. The academic content focus of the first-year seminar course will engage students with the overarching theme of “Social Identity and Integrity.” Together with their faculty leaders, students will learn about and deepen their understanding of and respect for our diverse community, and will locate themselves within that community. Active consideration of the following questions will serve as the basis for the course:
To promote interdisciplinary critical thinking skills the course is intended to be taught by faculty of different disciplines. Perhaps the best model for this interdisciplinary approach is to offer multiple sections of the seminar at the same time and have the individual faculty for each section rotate through all sections offered at that same common time. During their class periods with each section the individual faculty would explore the “Social Identity and Integrity” theme from the vantage point of their individual disciplines. A common reading or ‘Great Books’ approach that ties to the overarching theme would provide cohesion between the sections and aid the individual faculty in this co-teaching-type arrangement. Additionally, every section of the first-year seminar would follow a common syllabus (see appendix for an example).
The second goal of the course, and one of our campus commitments to students and to one another, is that that of being an engaged community. In this seminar, students will experience engagement both within the campus and the community. Through participation in a range of campus events, and in opportunities for service learning, students will establish connections that can be sustained throughout their time on campus.
Finally, in addition to the interdisciplinary exploration of ‘Social Identity,’ the first-year seminar course is intended to support students as they make the transition into college life. Academic skills such as using technology, time management, identifying personal goals and priorities, and listening/studying skills, would be addressed, as well as an introduction to financial literacy and campus resources. Oral communication skills and the creation of an e-portfolio are additional important features of the first-year seminar course.
Based upon the above, the following statement of course objectives and student learning outcomes is proposed:
Educational research has established that the needs of students taking a course for general education purposes are much different from those who are taking courses in order to pursue a degree within a particular discipline. One of the most significant issues within our current general education model is that the majority of courses being offered to satisfy the general education requirements are courses that are designed to be introductory courses for majors of the discipline. This approach to general education coursework does a disservice to both groups of students, majors and non-majors alike.
Best educational practices indicate that courses which present an in-depth discussion and analysis of a particular topic (for example, world music or global climate change) from a disciplinary perspective result in much higher levels of student engagement, learning and retention than those courses which attempt to cover the breadth of topical coverage provided within the entirety of a discipline (for example, introduction to psychology or general chemistry). While the breadth of a discipline is important and necessary information for students majoring within the discipline, it is not as relevant or interesting to non-majors. Furthermore, educational literature has identified thematically linked courses as providing the necessary interdisciplinary critical thinking skills essential to students since the exploration of single topics from multiple perspectives establishes the interconnectedness of society.
With the above in mind our proposed program requires 18 credit hours of thematic coursework. These courses may be offered as single courses or as clusters of 2 classes. Course clusters would be composed of two separate classes that are taught back-to-back and focus on the same topic from at least two different disciplines. The courses would be co-requisites and thus would have the same student population. The two teaching faculty are expected to work together on course coverage and perhaps have joint class sessions, experiential activities and/or field trips. Such an arrangement facilitates true interdisciplinary exchanges in the classroom, allows for and encourages sustained coordination and cooperation between the professors, and helps to create student learning communities that can be carried beyond the classroom itself.
All general education courses (including course clusters) beyond first-year courses are expected to focus upon at least one of three themes:
In order for a course or course cluster to be approved within a particular theme, each course must meet AT LEAST THREE of the Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) for that theme:
Creativity and Innovation: Students will be able to:
Critical Thinking and Analysis: Students will be able to:
Global Perspectives and Ethics: Students will be able to:
We envision a course approval process very similar to the current process whereby courses apply for consideration within a theme by stipulating which SLOs satisfied by course content, how the course satisfies the SLOs and how students are assessed with regard to the SLO. This thematic consideration is in addition to the SUNY GER ‘area’ requirements, and this approval process could be streamlined by providing an on-line form.
V.a. TRANSFER STUDENTS
As ~30% (or 500 persons) of our incoming students each year are transfer students, there is a need to address how the proposed general education program would impact transfer students. As per SUNY Central guidelines students transferring within the SUNY System who have met a SUNY GER area at a sending campus are deemed to have met the same SUNY GER area at a receiving campus. This applies to students transferring with or without a degree.
More specifically, we propose the following:
V.b. LIBERAL ARTS STUDENTS
The primary concern with regard to the Liberal Arts students is that student schedules are now built by the registrar’s office prior to students’ arrival on campus in the Fall. This issue, as well as other areas of concern, can be mitigated as proposed below:
As any general education program is not intended, nor should it be expected to serve as, a feeder program for majors, beyond these initial ideas/concessions, students should be advised to be more focused and deliberate with regard to taking various introductory courses and selecting a major within an area of study that interests them.
V.c. HONORS STUDENTS
Currently students within the Honors Program take four seminars in order to fulfill part of their general education requirements. This would not change as part of the proposed revision to the general education program. These seminar courses would be taken in lieu of some of the thematic coursework requirements of the revised program. Thus, all incoming students (regardless of status) have the same first-year ‘Social Inquiry’ requirements, but beyond the first-year students within the Honors Program would take 4 seminar courses to fulfill part of their general education requirements. General education requirements (7/10/30) not satisfied by the first-year and Honors seminar coursework would be satisfied through the thematic coursework.
V.d. TEACHER PREPARATION PROGRAMS (COLLEGE OF EDUCATION)
Undergraduate students majoring in teacher education programs will meet and/or exceed the requirements of the SUNY General Education Program through designated courses that fulfill the requirements for initial certification by completing five out of seven general education categories (Mathematics, Natural Sciences, American History, Humanities, and Foreign Language), which align with our four mandated core content areas.
The second Writing Intensive course will be addressed through a major course within the respective programs of study. Thus, all incoming prospective education majors will take the same First-Year Inquiry requirements, but beyond the first-year, education majors will take the remaining general education courses in the categories delineated above, along with the appropriate capstone course of student teaching. General education requirements (7/10/30) not satisfied by the first-year seminar and designated Education courses would be satisfied through the thematic coursework.
Prior to SUNY Central dictating SUNY-wide requirements for general education (1998), which led to the development of the CCC, SUNY Fredonia had both a ‘Dean of Special Programs’ and a ‘Writing Across the Curriculum Coordinator.’ While the writing coordinator position was funded through an external grant, the institutional support for these positions showed an internal commitment to general education that has been lacking since (Middle States Review 2009). As a 30-credit block of coursework that every student at SUNY Fredonia must complete in order to graduate, and a program of classes that involves every department on campus, as well as one with significant assessment needs, such a program needs a full-time administrator with associated secretarial support. This person would be responsible for:
In addition to a full-time administrator responsible for overseeing and assessing the new program’s efficacy, a Writing Program Administrator would support the development of writing-intensive (WI) courses, design interdisciplinary writing resources for both faculty and students, and ensure that effective writing skills are an ongoing priority of general education. Drawing upon aspects of both the Portland State University and Ithaca College models, we recommend that the Writing Program Administrator be responsible for:
Monitoring the ~5,000 students we have annually on this campus through the general education program, as well as encouraging and supporting faculty in their roles of teaching the content of those classes, not to mention assisting additional staff and administrative areas that may be impacted by general education (such as the registrar), requires at least one full-time, focused administrative position (with secretarial support). In light of the growing investment in writing across the curriculum in U.S. colleges and universities (Thaiss and Porter 2010), a Writing Program Administrator would contribute to both our general education program and support other writing-focused initiatives on campus.
Providing some administrative support for the general education program is a good first step in encouraging faculty to become more involved in general education (because then they can focus on their teaching rather than administration and assessment, which has become burdensome for many). But the shift from our current general education model, in which many courses are simply ‘Introductions to the major,’ to a thematic, integrative, interdisciplinary general education program, is going to require additional faculty support and incentives. A few ideas, which are not intended to be all-encompassing or exclusionary, are given below.
To encourage faculty involvement and assist match-making between interested faculty the general education program administrator should provide venues to allow faculty from differing departments to talk about common interests in order to develop thematic course pairings. This may include social networking events, as well as hosting forums or rengas through the PDC.
Portland State University has an additional model for encouraging faculty involvement in general education: tenure-track faculty lines that are shared between departments and the general education office. The general education office provides the funding for the position (as the hired faculty member is required to teach coursework within the general education program) but the faculty is housed within the academic department. Such a focused hiring process is especially useful in encouraging involvement in general education programming from departments that have historically been less involved in such course offerings.
In addition to simply encouraging and supporting faculty who invest in general education, we also need to provide incentives to assist faculty in helping us to revise our general education program through course creation. Revision of the general education program is not going to be simple; what we are proposing is a significant paradigm shift, which will occur over time, but is still going to require considerable changes in course content and structure. We propose that the first time faculty are team-teaching a course cluster, both faculty get credit for both classes. This will allow them the time needed to ensure an interdisciplinary nature to the course content. Another proposed incentive would be to allow faculty to ‘bank’ teaching credits such that if they teach an overload one semester, they can take a reduction in contact hours in another semester (in case such an option is necessary due to departmental needs, etc.). We understand that adjunct faculty teach a significant portion of our General Education courses and that such reductions in teaching loads are not helpful for these faculty. Similar incentives should be made available to adjunct faculty to ease their transition into this new program as well.
Following two academic years for approval and development, the proposed revised general education program would be implemented over the course of 4 academic years, following the class of 2020. The specific implementation timeline is given below.
AY 2013-2014: Submission and approval of new general education framework by University Senate. Initiation of search for General Education Administrator.
AY 2014-2016: Official hire of General Education Administrator. Development of First-Year ‘Social Inquiry’ seminars and ancillary coursework. Significant outreach to incoming and current students with regard to the changes ahead. Further development of transfer, ePortfolio and assessment plans.
AY 2016-2017: New general education program becomes effective for all incoming students. Full schedule of all First-Year ‘Social Inquiry’ seminars and ancillary coursework. Development of Thematic Coursework.
Summer 2017: Assessment of First-Year Inquiry/ First-Year of Implementation.
AY 2017-2018: Full schedule of First-Year Inquiry and some Thematic Coursework available. Development of additional Thematic Coursework. Assessment of individual courses within general education program.
Summer 2018: Assessment of First-Year Inquiry, Thematic Coursework, and Second-Year Implementation.
AY 2018-2019: Full schedule of First-Year Inquiry and Thematic Coursework.
Summer 2019: Assessment of individual courses and overall general education program using ePortfolios.
AY 2019-2020 & Beyond: Full revised general education program implementation is complete. Annual assessment of courses within the general education program, as well as assessment of the program as a whole.
VIII.a. MISSION AND GOALS
Based upon the recently approved general education mission statement:
The SUNY Fredonia General Education Program facilitates students’ acquisition of the knowledge and skills required to be creative, responsible, and engaged global citizens. At SUNY Fredonia, general education emphasizes integrated, interdisciplinary skills, competencies, experiences, and perspectives that foster critical thought and form the foundation for lifelong learning.
We propose the following programmatic goals for the overall general education program:
VIII.b. PROGRAM ASSESSMENT
Our programmatic goals, like the baccalaureate goals, have been conceived as overarching goals for our students and the program rather than as specific learning outcomes. At the same time, however, SUNY Central GER dictates that students fulfill at least 7 out of 10 disciplinary areas and 2 competencies, each of which has an associated list of student learning outcomes (SLOs) that must be regularly assessed. Our programmatic assessments through the use of e-portfolios will highlight the distinctiveness of each, but do not preclude their connection; they are not mutually exclusive. We propose an ongoing assessment of our general education program using student ePortfolios that integrates the assessment of both the course- and area- specific requirements of SUNY Central SLOs, and the more subjective and longitudinal assessment of the program goals and student growth and development. The design of both the course- and area- specific assignments will need to be developed carefully and fully integrated into the course design and approval process. Their creation by relevant disciplinary and general education faculty will be part of the implementation of the final approved program.
With regard to the use of the ePortfolio for assessment, it is important to note that the assessment of the overall general education program is different than the assessment of an individual student. Students will be assessed through individual assignments or activities within particular classes, not through the ePortfolios. The purpose of the ePortfolios for the student is to monitor their fulfillment of requirements and to document their growth throughout their undergraduate careers. As students upload document to their ePortfolio certain information will be required to be provided. Student advisor will check to make sure that all required fields are completed, but will not grade or assess the quality of the submitted work.
The overall General Education program will be asses through a random sampling of all of the ePortfolios, but no one person(s) will read or assess all of the ePortfolios for all of our students. Portland State provides a reasonable model for the use of programmatic assessment through the use of ePortfolios. Each summer 300 ePortfolios are randomly chosen for the purposes of programmatic assessment. These Portfolios are assessed by an assessment team, which includes faculty from across campus, as well as representatives from off-campus, based upon established rubrics for each of the programmatic learning goals. The assessment team conducts this assessment over the course of 2-3 days in the summer and each member is provided incentives of $200 per day for their efforts. Each portfolio is assessed by multiple members of the team, and then the team discusses the multiple analyses to provide feedback to the teaching faculty.
IX.a. BACCALAUREATE GOALS
During the 2011-2012 academic year, SUNY Fredonia created and adopted a set of campus-wide learning goals. The intention of these so-called ‘Baccalaureate Goals’ is to unify the campus, across all four divisions (Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, Administration and University Advancement) into one, holistic Community of Learning:
SUNY Fredonia will focus its mission to ensure that all Fredonia students, utilizing knowledge developed through a broad range of intellectual experiences, will be:
The proposed re-design of the general education program intends to directly support these overriding Baccalaureate Goals. Specifically, the proposed mission statement:
The SUNY Fredonia General Education Program facilitates students’ acquisition of the knowledge and skills required to be creative, responsible, and engaged global citizens.
explicitly utilizes the same terminology, in order to connect the overall mission of general education to that of our university. Furthermore each of our proposed learning outcomes is directly connected to one, or more, of the Baccalaureate Goals, as noted below:
Even further, each of the 4 themes (one for the first-year seminar and three as part of the thematic coursework) that are within the overall general education program are intended to directly connect to one of the baccalaureate goals:
IX.b. SUNY GENERAL EDUCATION REQUIREMENTS
Our overall proposed general education program requires a total of 30 credits, as specified by SUNY GER.
The required ‘Basic Communication’ area within SUNY GER entails both written and oral communication skills. Within our program oral communication skills are satisfied as part of the first-year seminar course, while written communication skills are satisfied through the first-year writing course, as well as the second, writing intensive course.
Given the 3 courses required as part of the First-Year Inquiry experience, students would have satisfied 2 of the SUNY GER by the end of the first year (Basic Communication & Mathematics/Quantitative Reasoning), both of which are the required general education areas. Additionally, one of the required competencies (Information Management) is an integral aspect of the first-year seminar course. Thus, by the end of the first year, an entering freshman would need to satisfy 5 more GER “areas” (while earning a total of 30 credits and demonstrating competency in critical thinking) in order to satisfy the SUNY GER.
The completion of these final 5 GER area requirements can easily be met within Thematic Coursework (18 credit hours, 6 course) requirement of the proposed program. In order to demonstrate fulfillment of the 7 out of 10 area requirements dictated by SUNY GER students would provide sample work within their e-portfolios. Our vision of the e-portfolio is similar to our campus website or ANGEL course management system in that there would be a common “shell” for all students to use. This shell would allow for personalization, but provide a common structure. We envision at least part of this common structure being framed around the GER such that completion of the 7 out of 10 disciplinary areas required by SUNY could be easily assessed through sample work included within the e-portfolio, and students would be engaged in ensuring their own completion of these area requirements.
With regard to the “demonstrated competencies” required by SUNY GER, the proposed e-portfolio requirement infuses Information Management throughout the student’s undergraduate experience. A hallmark of the Thematic Coursework required as part of the program is the integration of critical thinking skills within the educational framework of the linked courses themselves. The assessment and attainment of student’s abilities in these areas can be assessed through the e-portfolio, as well as through particular assignments within specific classes. For example, thematic coursework will have to assess critical thinking skills as part of the course.
Finally, it is important to note that while the intent of the proposed General Education program is to increase interdisciplinarity, it is not meant to do so to the exclusion of those programs or courses which are already interdisciplinary by their nature. More specifically it is very much possible for interdisciplinary courses to be included in the Thematic Coursework, even to the extent that a thematic cluster could be composed of two interdisciplinary courses. Since interdisciplinary courses by their nature integrate multiple SUNY-wide GER ‘areas’ it is possible for such courses to be given approval as such. This has not historically been the case on our campus, but is allowed by SUNY central and has been done on other SUNY campuses. Thus as an integral part of our redesigned General Education program we are proposing that individual courses be allowed to satisfy up to 2 GER disciplinary area designations (assuming the courses document and assess that they are achieving the required Students Learning Outcomes for both areas) and, therefore, that thematic clusters could satisfy up to 4 GER areas.
IX.c. SEAMLESS TRANSFER
In December 2012 the SUNY Trustees passed a resolution regarding the intention of ‘Seamless Transfer’ of students between SUNY institutions. This resolution led to a Memorandum to Presidents, which was disseminated in its final form on June 14, 2013. This resolution stated, among other things, that all general education programs at every campus within the SUNY system must allow students to complete the 7/10/30 SUNY GER within the first 2 years of undergraduate study. Please note that the resolution only requires that general education programs allow for the completion of the GER within 2 years; it does not require that students MUST complete the GER within 2 years.
While best educational practices indicate that that it is better to spread general education coursework across the four years of a typical undergraduate curriculum, the general education proposed herein does allow students to complete all 30 credits within their first 2 years of study, though students should be encouraged to spread their general education coursework out to at least 3 years.