Gen Ed Reform at Penn State in Progress

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If there’s one topic Onward State has unwittingly ignored over the last several months, it is that of general education reform at Penn State. I write to you as someone who has taken at least a semester’s worth of online music classes to fulfill my GenEd requirements and as an avid RateMyProfessors user who takes great effort in crafting the most convenient schedule possible to make more time for my extracurriculars.

As it turns out, degree audits like mine might soon be a thing of the past. Penn State has formed a General Education Task Force aimed at increasing the rigor, meaning and scope of its GenEd offerings.

Most undergraduates complete 45 credits of GenEds, or a little more than a third of the overall degree requirement. These courses are loosely based around concentrations like Humanities, Arts and Natural Sciences, with quite a bit of leeway and selection. According to Associate Dean Chistopher Long, who chairs one of the seven GenEd Task Force committees, that number could decrease to about 36 credits with a specific theme, or “knowledge domain,” attached.

“A vision is emerging, and the task force has agreed that multi-disciplinary themes are going to be a portion of the GenEd curriculum,” Long said. “We can do exploration and rigor at the same time. We want to increase the coherence and the rigor of the curriculum.”

This means that approximately 12 credits (four classes) of the GenEd curriculum will be dedicated to a particular theme, for instance, love and sex, our place in the cosmos, life and death or (my recommendation) the history and practical application of craft beer and alcohol. The theme system is still very much in an exploratory stage, and students can tweet @PSUGenEd with the #PSUGenEd with more ideas.

“We have a vision for GenEds, but we haven’t made all the necessary decisions because we want to consult with the university community. Everything is still very preliminary,” Long said. “GenEd touches everybody. It’s important that we include as many people in the conversation that we can to develop the best system possible.”

Other changes are likely on the way, too. One idea currently on the table is combining CAS and English 15 into a six credit writing and speaking sequence focused on community participation.

“I’m excited about the idea that every student at Penn State would have an integrated series of courses in writing and speaking, with an emphasis on democratic deliberation,” Long said (and blogged). “We’re in the process of figuring out what a course like that would look like.”

These preliminary changes are in tangent with a GenEd Forensic Report, which determined that it was necessary to rethink the way we do GenEds at Penn Sate. The report (which can be read here) determined, quite bluntly, that GenEds “exist at the lowest level of the curriculum and the cognitive ladder” and “fail to capitalize on the intellectual potential of our students.”

That’s not to say that GenEds will prohibit exploration altogether. There will still be a certain number of credits set aside to use at will, along with opportunities for Engaged Scholarship, research and other elements. There are, of course, a multitude of things to consider; cost for course development, feasibility at Commonwealth Campuses and the logistics of implementation, to name a few. Ultimately, all of these ideas are preliminary — the new GenEd curriculum is set to be implemented Fall 2016. Dean Long emphasized the desire for input from all aspects of the Penn State community as this initiative progresses.

“We’re trying to do things in the online space that enables more input and more open discussion about general education,” Long said. “We want people to feel included. We as a university community should have a conversation where we enable people to participate and then have that inform and guide the decision we make.”

Be sure to checkout the GenEd website and tweet at them with your ideas.

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About Author

Kevin Horne was the editor of Onward State from 2012-2014, and currently holds the position of Managing Editor Emeritus. He graduated from Penn State with degrees journalism and political science in 2014 and is currently seeking his J.D. at the Penn State Dickinson School of Law. A third generation Penn Stater from Williamsport, Pa., Kevin is a director of the Nittany Valley Society 501(c)(3) and is involved in student government.

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