Fast Links: Background | The Issues | Designing a Signature Gen Ed Program | Mission & Goals | Connection to Bacc Goals | The Program | Connection to SUNY Central Guidelines | Themes | Administration | Faculty Support & Compensation | Transfer Students | Implementation Plan | Assessment | Appendix (includes references) (PDF download only)
The current general education program at SUNY Fredonia, known as the CCC (College Core Curriculum), started in 2001 as the result of SUNY Central guidelines. This program is best described as a distribution model of general education requirements. Perhaps largely owing to its creation as a mandate from SUNY Central, rather than being created internally, the CCC 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)
Contrary to our campus perspective, 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.
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.
In the Fall of 2012 the current General Education Revision Committee was created and charged with the creation, proposal and implementation of a revised general education program here at SUNY Fredonia through a multi-year process. Members of this committee were appointed through a joint procedure between the College Senate Executive Committee and the President of the University. The membership of this General Education Revision Committee is as follows:
A number of institutional reviews have been occurring across our campus in recent years:
Each of these reviews, along with on-going CCC assessments, has provided opportunities to solicit information and feedback with regard to institutional identity and educational mission. Thus, rather than starting off with a new round of data collection, the work of this committee started with a review of the findings and feedback from all of this previous work (as was suggested by the General Education Review Subcommittee of the Middle States Review Team).
From the review of these findings we note the following issues with regard to our current general education program. 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, we must 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 with 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 in the 21st century owing to their interdisciplinary exploration of an issue, problem or idea. Furthermore, Kun (2008) has acknowledged thematically-linked courses as high impact practices, which lead to high levels of student engagement and learning. In addition to thematically-linked courses, Kun (2008) recognizes first-year seminar courses and capstone experiences as other high impact educational practices with measurable positive impact on student learning, as well as engagement and retention. A number of recent studies (Cambridge, 2008; Hart Research Assoc., 2008) have indicated that e-portfolios provide a better instrument for assessment of student learning outcomes than standardized tests or other assessment metrics, while also providing potential employers with tangible means of conducting their own assessment of potential employees.
Based upon the issues noted in our own 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 designed revision of the general education program at 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 recommendations represent the conclusions of how best to design and implement a positive, productive and meaningful curricular innovation within the general education program at SUNY Fredonia.
“Notoriously contentious and protracted, efforts to reform general education curricula can prove frustrating for the participants, and they often end in failure.” (Trainor, 2004) Many members of our institution, especially those with some history here, know this statement well. We can learn from these previous efforts and those of others. One primary issue when approaching a general education program that is based upon a distribution system such as ours is that any change in distribution requirements can be seen as a potential threat to departments. “Understandably, [faculty] want to protect their own courses and departments, are wary of any extra work that a curricular revision might entail, and suspect that there may not be enough resources to support change.” (Gaff, 2004)
A related issue is that curricular reform is often approached from the perspective of ‘what should a student know?’ leading to list of discipline specific ‘facts’ or traits. The assumption has been, and often continues to be, that there is a common core of knowledge that should be possessed by all educated people; that an ‘educated person’ is a final (and thus static) state that is produced. (White, 1994) In contrast to this perspective, if you look at the above list of skills and abilities that industrial leaders, educators and labor economists agree our students need, it is not a list of facts, it is a list of skills used to investigate issues and reason out the facts, to understand that everything is complex and multi-faceted, and to provide the necessary abilities to productively engage in such a world.
In designing a revised general education program here at SUNY Fredonia, then, it is important that we avoid focusing too narrowly on own our courses and departments, and focus instead on the larger educational agenda facing our students. Additionally, we should bear in mind the experiences of others. In reviewing trends and consequences of general education reform (albeit during two separate 10 year time spans: 1980-1990 and 1990-2000, respectively), both Gaff (1991) and Ratcliff (2004) acknowledge that ‘small-scale’ changes, such as adding a writing component or limiting the range of course options, has very little overall impact on students engagement, faculty perceptions or overall coherence of a general education program. In contrast, comprehensive, ‘large-scale’ reforms are reported to have a substantial range of positive consequences, including (but not limited to):
As human beings our natural tendency is to avoid change, especially change on the large scale, but the efforts of those who have come before us indicate that it is only through large-scale change that real improvements in a general education program can occur. We are proposing such a large-scale change. And we do so bearing in mind that what we really need to be doing through our general education program is instilling within our students a love of learning and providing them the skills to become engaged, lifelong learners.
We recommend a vision and purpose that is founded upon the principle that an ‘educated person’ is not a stagnant final endpoint, but rather the active engagement in a lifelong enterprise that is never truly complete.
The SUNY Fredonia General Education Program aims to prepare undergraduates to become engaged in the acquisition of the knowledge and skills required to be creative and responsible 21st-century global citizens. It emphasizes the integrated and interdisciplinary skills, experiences, competencies, ways of knowing, and habits of mind that allow students to think critically and reflectively, forming the foundation for lifelong learning, and providing a source of empowerment that can be carried beyond the walls of SUNY Fredonia into the rest of their lives.
From this mission statement we propose the following goals:
We intend that this statement of purpose and set of program goals will provide a foundation for general education that can be communicated to faculty and students, imparting an understanding of general education, its role within our institutional mission, and a greater coherence to the program as a whole.
During the 2011-2012 academic year, primarily through the efforts of an appointed campus task force, 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. The mission and goals of the proposed revised general education program, as stated above, intend to directly support and connect to our overriding Baccalaureate Goals:
SUNY Fredonia will focus its mission to ensure that all Fredonia students, utilizing knowledge developed through a broad range of intellectual experiences, will be:
Specifically, the proposed mission statement:
The SUNY Fredonia General Education Program aims to prepare undergraduates to become engaged in the acquisition of the knowledge and skills required to be creative and responsible 21st-century 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:
These goals, in various combinations and connected through the themes proposed below (section IV.c.), will be infused throughout the overall general education curriculum. We anticipate that, in addition to our required assessment of the specific SUNY-wide Student Learning Outcomes, our own internal evaluation of the general education program would provide assessments of the overall Baccalaureate Goals of the institution. (For more information see sections IV and VI, below.)
The program we are recommending does not specify particular courses. Rather we are suggesting an overall framework that will be built up and populated with classes developed over the course of a 5-year implementation plan. In order to provide an identity to the general education program (which will help both faculty and students to understand its purpose and mission), we are recommending the creation of a separate general education course designation (e.g., ‘GNED’). This stands in stark contrast to our current program whose requirements are met by departmental course offerings. The particular components of our recommended program have been identified as contributing to best practices in general education curriculum design, and the overall program lends itself to multiple avenues of assessment for the proposed learning outcomes. (Welch, 2003; Kuh 2008; Cambridge, 2008; Hart Research Assoc., 2008; Hart Research Assoc., 2010)
IV.a. BASIC FRAMEWORK
We envision a general education program that is clearly structured, but spread throughout the 4 years of a typical undergraduate program (the integration of transfer students into this program is explained in section IV.e. below). The intention of the program is to foster the students’ growth, throughout these 4 years, from a personal and local level out to a broader, global, contextualized level through the use of a programmatic progression in the topical coverage of the general education coursework.
Kuh (2008) has identified first-year seminars, thematically-linked courses and capstone experiences all as high impact practices associated with high levels of student engagement and learning. Moreover, Raising the Bar (2010), a national study of employers, as well as a Delphi study of experts on interdisciplinary learning (Welch, 2003), both identified thematically-linked courses as providing the essential skills needed by graduates in the 21st century owing to their interdisciplinary exploration of an issue, problem or idea. More than 50% of employers surveyed identified e-portfolios as an assessment that would provide them with great confidence that prospective employees possess the broad skills required to succeed in the workplace (Hart Research Assoc., 2008). Cambridge (2008) noted that e-portfolios allow a wider range of learning outcomes to be examined than standardized tests and, when evaluated using a common rubric, provide greater comparability across the institution than do course-level assignments and assessments.
Through writing intensive courses and faculty professional development initiatives, Writing Across the Curriculum/Writing in the Disciplines programs promote students’ critical thinking skills by implementing “writing to learn” and “writing to communicate” pedagogy (McLeod, 2001). These programs also have the capacity to take on the role of “Change Agent” within the institutional setting, contributing to “collaboration among faculty for assessment and pedagogy in the service of general education” (Condon and Rutz, 2013). And, because WAC/WID “requires a complex partnership among faculty, administrators, writing centers, [and] faculty development programs” (Condon and Rutz, 2013), it fosters the kind of interdisciplinary, community-oriented and collaborative goals valued on our campus and as part of our mission and goals for revised general education. The efficacy of WAC/WID is evident in the “substantial growth in programs over the past twenty years” (“by roughly one-third” nationwide) based on the most recent survey data (Thaiss and Porter, 2010), and it is a well-established initiative that would undoubtedly support our efforts to effectively assess students’ critical thinking skills and other campus-wide or departmental learning outcomes (Condon and Kelly-Riley, 2004).
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. What we are proposing here is the development of a unique, campus-specific approach to the general education (distribution) requirements dictated by SUNY Central, but we are not requesting any campus-specific requirements in excess of SUNY Central guidelines.
In short SUNY Central now (2010) requires the ‘7/10/30’ model: students must earn 30 SUNY-General Education Requirement (SUNY-GER) credits in 7 out of 10 disciplinary areas. More specifically, these requirements are summarized as follows:
Our overall proposed general education program requires a total of 30 credits, as specified by SUNY Central. Given the 4 courses required as part of the Freshman Inquiry experience, students would have satisfied 4 of the SUNY GER by the end of the first year, two of which are the required (*) general education areas (Basic Communication*, Mathematics/Quantitative Reasoning*, Information Management, & Foreign Language/Other World Civilizations). Thus, by the end of the first year, an entering freshman would need only to satisfy 3 more GER “areas” (while earning a total of 30 credits and fulfilling the two competencies).
The completion of these final 3 GER area requirements can easily be met within the 5 courses required during the Thematic Clusters of a student’s sophomore and junior years. Furthermore, many undergraduate majors, especially those outside of the professional programs, are based upon areas which inherently satisfy at least one of the SUNY GER required areas. For example, a natural science major would by virtue of their degree program have satisfied the natural sciences general education requirement. Similarly, a visual art major would have satisfied the arts GER or an English major would have satisfied the humanities requirement. We do propose that courses taken within a student’s major that correspond to one of the ‘area’ requirements of SUNY Central, be considered as fulfilling that GER area. Hence natural science majors need not take an ‘extra’ natural science general education course outside of their major program. Such acknowledgement of coursework within a major, while still maintaining the integrity of the general education program, means that non-majors will not be taking coursework that is designed for majors.
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 general education requirements such that completion of the 7 out of 10 disciplinary areas required by SUNY Central could be easily assessed through the e-portfolio, and students would be engaged in ensuring their own completion of these area requirements. Students would provide sample work to demonstrate fulfillment of the 7 out of 10 area requirements dictated by SUNY Central whether these assignments are completed as part of coursework within a major or as part of the separate general education coursework.
With regard to the “demonstrated competencies” required by SUNY Central, the e-portfolio requirement we are proposing, actually infuses Information Management throughout the student’s undergraduate experience. A hallmark of the Thematic Clusters required during the sophomore and junior years 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 particular assignments within specific classes. For example, thematic clusters will have to assess critical thinking skills as part of the course.
We envision our general education program structured around themes that are designed to emphasize the interdisciplinarity of our model while making explicit (for both faculty and students) the interconnectedness of coursework, the goals of the general education program, and meaningful lines of inquiry/analysis. Although our themes are intended to highlight a possible focus of exploration within a year, they are NOT designed to: (1) obscure or diminish the significance of each theme as a line of inquiry across general education or the students’ academic career as a whole or (2) disallow exploration or analysis of that theme in non- or alternatively-themed courses.
Research into both traditional and innovative models of general education, along with extensive culling from prior committee’s findings on general education at SUNY Fredonia (Middle States Review 2009, Ad Hoc General Education Review 2010, GECKO Grant 2010), call attention to the significance of interdisciplinary approaches to general education in an increasingly globalized society and students’ need for greater cultural awareness and critical thinking skills across disciplines. Though we are aware of the potential limitations of grouping courses according to themes, current research suggests that the meaningful and productive outcomes of an integrated approach outweigh the possible setbacks associated with this model and would not exceed, at any rate, those we’re currently experiencing via the narrow curricular focus of the CCC.
The themes we’ve selected are designed according to: (1) past findings of SUNY Fredonia committees, which reported on the kinds of interdisciplinary skills students needed to develop and (2) our research into themes that have been incorporated into innovative models of general education, particularly at Portland State University and Ithaca College. Both of these institutions have embraced a liberal arts mission as the basis for reconceptualizing general education and have given special attention to the needs of diverse programs and transfer students on campus.
We are envisioning a program that moves from the local (exploration of self/identity) to the global (toward social responsibility and cultural awareness) in its overarching trajectory and that leaves the freshman year open to faculty innovation under the broad focus of “exploration.” Possible themes for sophomore and upper-level clusters, building on Freshman year inquiry and leading to the community-service/Senior Capstone experience, are as follows:
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. 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 actually 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 or the internship office), requires at least one full-time, focused administrative position. And, in light of the growing investment in writing across the curriculum (WAC) 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 they can then 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.
To encourage faculty involvement and assist match-making between interested faculty the general education program administrator should host, at least twice year, some type of ‘wine and cheese social.’ Such events allow faculty from differing departments to talk about common interests in order to develop thematic course pairings.
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 (http://www.pdx.edu/unst/staffing-initiative).
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 the following semester (in case such an option is necessary due to departmental needs, etc.).
As ~30% (or 500 persons) of our incoming students each year are transfer students, we understand the need to address how they would feed into our revised general education program. The questions that need to be answered for transfer students are:
In order to aid in the seamless transfer of students, SUNY Central has sought to answer these questions with the following directives to:
More specifically, students transferring within the SUNY System who have met a SUNY GER area at a sending campus shall be deemed to have met the same SUNY GER area at a receiving campus. This applies to students transferring with or without a degree.
Our concern is implementation of the directives on this campus with the framework of our proposed general education program. We propose the following:
Following an initial academic year for approval and development, the proposed revised general education program would be implemented over the course of 4 academic years, in theory following the class of 2019. The specific implementation timeline is given below.
AY 2013-2014: Submission and approval of new general education framework by College Senate. Initiation of search for General Education Administrator.
AY 2014-2015: Official hire of General Education Administrator. Development of Freshman 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 2015-2016: New general education program becomes effective for all incoming students. Full schedule of all Freshman Inquiry seminars and ancillary coursework. Development of Sophomore Thematic Course Clusters.
Summer 2016: Assessment of Freshman Inquiry/ First-Year of Implementation.
AY 2016-2017: Full schedule of Freshman Inquiry and Sophomore Thematic Clusters available. Development of Junior Thematic Clusters. Assessment of individual courses within general education program.
Summer 2017: Assessment of Freshman Inquiry, Sophomore Thematic Clusters, Second Year Implementation.
AY 2017-2018: Full schedule of Freshman Inquiry and Sophomore & Junior level Thematic Clusters. Determination of needs by students for senior capstone experience.
Summer 2018: Assessment of individual courses and overall general education program. Mapping of senior capstone needs to relevant projects or experiences.
AY 2018-2019: First implementation of senior capstone requirement. Evaluation of first-set of eportfolios. Full revised general education program implementation is complete.
2020 & Beyond: Annual assessment of courses within the general education program, as well as assessment of the program as a whole.
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 e-portfolios 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. To provide an outline of this type of assessment and the interconnections between SUNY Fredonia’s Baccalaureate Goals, our General Education Goals and Themes (as in section III.a and IV.c), and SUNY Central GER SLOs, we have created a curricular map (see Appendix 6). Specific assessment methods, mostly related to yet-to-be-developed e-portfolio assignments, are provided only in very general terms to exemplify the possibilities. We understand that the design of both the course- and area-specific assignments as well as base-line, benchmark, and capstone assignments required for more longitudinal program assessments 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.