One word to promote general education renewal (it’s not “jobs”)

A general education outcome that reads, “through a diverse set of course, students explore various disciplines as part of an integrated education that causes them to connect and apply their learning across the curriculum,” might in practice mean, “We teach what we want. Students take courses willy-nilly. If they happen to relate, well, that’s cool.”

Paul Gaston, Trustees Professor of English at Kent State University and the final plenary speaker at AAC&U’ conference on General Education notes, “University catalogs and course descriptions should not be autobiographies of the faculty.” Rather, a curriculum should be a distinctive set of courses that moves students along a trajectory intentionally designed by the faculty.

This intentionality, he says, is the key to educational reform. Paraphrasing Plato, Gaston notes, “Students who are told what they are going to learn are more excited about and appreciative of the learning they attain.”

The biggest threat to this concept comes from faculty colleagues who say, “Students will not be able to appreciate this course until many years after it is over.” This is a self-indulgent approach to education. Instead, our course should indulge learning, by having each general education course’s outcomes tied to tangible learning a student will experience as part of their intellectual and personal development.

The Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) annual conference on General Education and Assessment was held at the New Orleans Marriott in New Orleans, Louisiana, February 23-25, 2012. I attended on behalf of Queens University of Charlotte with four faculty colleagues. Read all the articles on this conference here.

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