Faculty Senate Approves Extensive Gen Ed Reform

The Faculty Senate approved sweeping changes to the Gen Ed curriculum at its meeting last Tuesday. The approval is a major  step in the right direction that has been in the works for two years. The task force for General Education and Oversight was jointly charged by the Faculty Senate and Provost in March of 2013.

The task force solicited input from students, faculty members, and stakeholders through Senate reports, multiple retreats, campus and college visits, and web-based public forums, according to the approved legislation. This helped to generate ideas that ultimately culminated in the recommendations presented to the Senate by the task force.

The new curriculum will focus on “breadth of knowledge” while “facilitating intellectual engagement and flexibility.”

“It’s about helping students make connections,” task force co-chair Janet Schulenberg said in a press release. “A commitment to integrative thinking is a hallmark of contemporary General Education programs. It prepares students to think across multiple domains and modes of inquiry, and to be able to transfer knowledge within and beyond their current contexts.”

In a separate vote at the meeting last Tuesday, the senate approved all six recommendations from the task force. A summary of the recommendations is below and the full legislation is available online. The recommendations were divided in two parts. The first two recommendations focus on learning objectives and curricular assessment. The final four objectives are revisions to the current curricular structure.

  1. Revise the current statement on General Education goals to include updated learning objectives.
  2. A regular and ongoing assessment plan for General Education should be developed by the Faculty Senate and university bodies assigned to program assessment.
  3. Rename Health and Physical Activity (GHA) to Health and Wellness (GHW).
  4. Rename the “Skills” component of General Education to “Foundations” and rename the “Knowledge Domains” component of General Education to “Breadth Across Knowledge Domains.”
  5. Require a C or better in GWS (Writing and Speaking) courses and GQ (Quantification) courses.
  6. Require 6 credits of Integrative Studies and create inter-domain courses as a way for students to accomplish the Integrative Studies requirement.

Maggie Slattery, co-chair of the task force, told Penn State News the proposal wasn’t a radical change. “It shouldn’t be – that would be disruptive – so this keeps parts of our existing program. But it also looks forward. It improves general education in ways that already have been tested at other universities, and it allows the University to make additional adjustments as we go forward.”

A major change is to the bulletin language outlining what it means to be an effective Gen Ed curriculum. Currently, there are nine learning objectives that will be replaced by the first recommendation. The task force created seven new learning objectives, including: effective communication, key literacies, critical and analytical thinking, integrative thinking, creative thinking, global learning, and social responsibility and ethical learning.

The proposal does not change the number of Gen Ed credits required. The new curriculum will require a C or better in foundation courses, which aligns with the undergraduate requirement for students to have a C or better in 15 credits for their major.

Don’t get too excited — in order to revise the current curriculum, the Faculty Senate needs to implement these changes. The Logistic subcommittee of the task force is in the process of creating an implementation timeline. So if you’re studying for a final exam in a Gen Ed from Hell, keep studying. But take heart in the fact that change is on the horizon.

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