Faculty Assembly approves new Gen.Ed.

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At its April meeting, The JSC Faculty Assembly gave final approval to a new general education program, which will take effect in fall 2013.

Designers of the program hope that it will strengthen the college’s emphasis on a liberal arts education. Those working on the new model wanted it to be more than just a laundry list or menu of requirements. One of the objections to the current model is that it lacks coherence and a clear rationale.

“The liberal arts are supposed to provide students with a broad education of arts and sciences,” said Assistant Professor of Writing and Literature Sharon Twigg, chair of the Strategic Planning Academic Advisory Committee. “But it’s also supposed to help students see the interconnectedness of their education. With the [new design] any course that goes into the Gen. Ed. program is going to have to highlight in some way how that particular course is connected to other courses that the student will take.”

The new model provides an opportunity to transform the academic landscape at the college by providing a platform for new courses and programs to evolve. “The idea is that it’s creative and exciting,” Twigg said. “It’s a way for instructors to open up their own thinking about how they teach or how they present things. This is a lot of work for us. It’s meant to be kind of rejuvenation especially with instructors thinking about their courses from a fresh perspective. It will be exciting.”

The next step in the process begins this fall as faculty start submitting courses to be included in the new program.

“If you want to have a course in the new Gen. Ed. program, you have to apply to have it approved through a vetting committee consisting of members from both SPAAC and the Gen. Ed. committee,” said Associate Professor of Writing and Literature Tyrone Shaw, chair of the Faculty Assembly and a member of SPACC. “There is going to be a vetting process,” he said. “At present there is not one course that would automatically qualify for the new Gen. Ed., but with a few easy modifications, many very well could.”

Professors will evaluate and decide into which of the four perspectives they want their courses to fit. The vetting committees will review the new courses to insure that the interdisciplinary component connects across disciplines.

The current general education menu of eight different categories will change to one designed around four interconnected perspectives:. Aesthetic, Social and Historical, Global, and the experience of beauty in artistic and natural forms; the value of aesthetic experience and the role of artistic expression in the development of self and society; analytical and historical aspects of aesthetic attitudes and judgments; or creative processes and techniques. These perspectives could include, but would not be limited to, courses in such disciplines as art history, literature, studio arts, theatre arts, dance, and music.

 

Courses in Social and Historical Perspectives (6 credits) will explore principles involved in human thought and activity; human beliefs and value systems; patterns of social interaction and development; and institutional behavior and change. These perspectives could include, but would not be limited to, courses in such disciplines as business, history, political science, sociology, psychology, education, outdoor education, anthropology, religious and ethnographic studies, ethics, and philosophy.

Global Perspectives explore the many natural forces and cultural constructs that have shaped and continue to shape our world across regions, within contexts, and throughout time. Courses in Global Perspectives could include, but would not be limited to such disciplines as history, political science, economics, world languages, philosophy, business, and natural and environmental sciences.

Courses in Civic Perspectives (3 credits), will unite academic learning and direct, intentional engagement with communities at or beyond the college.

While the 21 credits of integrative perspectives form the core of the new general education curriculum, other components are included as well. Included also are foundational skills, which include composition courses, math and a lab science. “The scientific method is considered part of foundational skills that students need to have,” Twigg said. “Basic writing, basic quantitative, basic scientific methods are things we need to know as a person living today.”

The new program should provide more options and choices for students. “If it functions as it’s intended to, it is going to open up our course catalog to many more general education offerings,” Shaw said.

There are important concerns regarding students who are in the middle of the current program. According to Twigg, students who are in the middle of the current, soon to be old Gen. Ed. will likely be able to choose whether they would like to finish the old version, or if they find the new Gen. Ed. more flexible and interesting, they could opt to do the new one. “All the courses that they took previously will count for the new Gen Ed.,” she said. “We are not going to put roadblocks in their way or make them retake courses. We are trying to make that as easy as possible.”

The same goes for transfer students. “If transfer students come in and they have a variety of Gen. Eds that they’ve met, they will count for the new Gen. Eds.,” Twigg said. “Which only makes sense, we have a lot of transfer students.”

Advisors will play an important role in helping students negotiate if they want to switch from the old to the new. It will be different for every student. Another important factor concerning advisors is that students are going to be able to tailor their general education classes to their interests much more. Some students may end up concentrating more on certain interests and some students will need more guidance and advice in terms of what classes they should take, because there will be more choice.

SPAAC student member senior Jon Wilson is concerned about how advisors will help with the new program, “Our current system is fairly arbitrary and a lot of advisors don’t have any understanding of it,” he said. “I think that would be my one worry going into this new system. Advisors won’t take the time to learn it or correctly advise their students. I know a number of advisors who didn’t even know there was a quantitatively enriched requirement. Hopefully within a couple years once the advisors start to understand the system more, I think this will be a much more navigable general education system.”

The newly designed program should also facilitate more timely graduation, one of the goals of the college’s current five-year stragetic plan. “We want to be flexible and ambitious in getting the college graduating students in four years, which is not just something that is hard at Johnson State,” Twigg said. “A lot of colleges and university students struggle to get through in four years, for a variety of reasons, but we don’t want one of those reasons to be Gen. Ed.”

Wilson agrees. “It will definitely, I think, take a better approach to interdisciplinary liberal arts education,” he said. “I’m really excited about it. Hopefully we can start graduating students in four years instead of six.”

SPAAC member and Professor of Writing and Literature Daniel Towner is not entirely sold on the total package, however. “I am in the “wait and see” mode,” he said. “I have some questions about the directions we are taking. We need to find some flexibility. And I also think that general education redesign is an opportunity for faculty development. I think there is an opportunity of cross pollination between the disciplines. I’m very interested in seeing that happen.”

He is willing to give up a lot for the sake of the Civic Perspectives component. “I’m very interested in seeing students become involved in their community, whether it’s the college community or the wider community,” Towner said. I think it has prospect for transforming people’s lives to become involved in their community.”

Shaw also noted both the potential for faculty development and the need for what he called “diligent maintenance” of the new program. “Building it is one thing,” Shaw said. “Monitoring what is working and what isn’t is another. Assessment will be key.”

 

 

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