Thursday, June 20, 2013
“Rationalizing” Gen Ed
Wise and worldly readers, have you seen an approach to streamlining gen ed requirements that actually worked, made sense, and didn’t result in campus bloodletting? Or is this really a red herring?
This shouldn't necessarily threaten any department. The school had X number of social science professors to teach Y number of students. They still need X number of social science professors, and as long as faculty are willing to teach general surveys they can still justify their staffing.
The problem, of course, is that Econ 101 is the gateway to an Econ major or minor, but Survey of Social Science 101 isn't. So maybe you structure the GE program to balance breadth with disciplinary perspective. They have to take a mix of Survey 101 courses and Discipline 101 courses.
The challenge in "rationalizing" general education is getting a rational discussion (for some of the reasons you mention) and the more important one of dealing with major requirements if the number of gen ed requirements is large enough that the two might come into conflict. That latter situation is where meta-majors come into play because you can't deal with all of the 100+ different university majors.
Your psych example is a good starting point. It doesn't work for a business major who needs two semesters of economics and might need to use up some electives getting ready to take business calculus. Allied health needs psych but certainly doesn't need a traditional business econ course. (Does anyone teach a gen ed course on the economics of the insurance, retirement, and credit card world other than those low level personal finance classes?)
The biggest flaw of the various systems I have seen is that they are totally disjointed. I'm so old that I witnessed the fading away of a university-wide social science sequence and a humanities course sequence that (at one time) must have been modeled on the Great Books program at Chicago. These had been supplemented with some "chinese menu" options, first for specific majors where the catch-all class was a waste of time, then for political reasons in the revolutionary 60s to bring in Newer Books. In my time, the original course was abolished and replaced with a "menu" version that had various complicated ways of trying to get a diverse coherence.
Some of those systems are complicated enough that the faculty had trouble understanding it, let alone the students, so I can never blame students for getting lost in that mess.
All our classes were in theory linked, not only by having the same students in them, but in having the same primary sources only/great books approach to curriculum development. I really liked that aspect of it.
So in the end I went through college with two communities -- the other physics major, and the honors kids in my year. All of my classes, pretty much, were with one group or the other.
I think I could imagine creating cohorts like this for all of the students. What if you did force even students who hadn't declared a major to declare a general interest category -- social science or health care or science or art or something -- and then you grouped them together into cohorts and assigned each cohort the same list of required "gen ed" classes? That would reduce the number of decisions that had to be made, possibly simplify academic advising and scheduling, give students more of a built-in support network and study group... Without necessarily hurting any given department (as long as some cohorts are still assigned to all of the existing distribution requirement classes.) It seems like win-win-win. And I can testify personally that I enjoyed the variation on this idea that I experienced in college.
I have worked with a number of general education requirements over the years. It seems to me that their main focus is to impart breadth to the curriculum, not necessarily to make all the students "generally educated" with the same set of courses. I do think there's something to the thinking that "too much choice" presents a challenge to many students, but that's more of an argument for better advising (faculty, professional deans, whatever) narrowing the general education requirements.
You're right to point out the internal campus politics issues, one of which is the "we've got to spread this out so that the 'burden' doesn't fall too much on one department."