Sunday, February 23, 2014
Possible New Gen Eds
Wise and worldly readers, what do you think? Is there a new gen ed outcome you’d suggest? Is there one that should be retired? Or should we just move away from the concept altogether?
One thing I liked about this blog when I started reading during grad school was that it frequently brings up issues you don't think or hear about as a grad student. A year ago, this would have been one of those things, but now, 6 months into my first TT appointment, I found myself reading, nodding, and sighing...
On your main point, public speaking works better as an upper division gen ed class tailored to the major. I know engineering and business programs that build it in across the curriculum, so it would be a waste to reguire all freshmen to take a generic course.
That said, anyone who watches political discourse and advertising in the united states needs to study the sophists and learn the techniques used to present seemingly plausible but logically false arguments.
I also endorse personal finance over some other options, particularly if it includes the math of compound interest and some of the background on financing a small business as well as a household. It could cover entrepreneurship as well as student loans.
Similarly, the basics of algorithms and programming could be considered a modern extension of logic in the humanities.
Entrepreneurship as a required Gen Ed? Not so much. But make it available, make it fun, and have it available in the 3 or 4-week intersession time slot as well as at night, weekends, etc.
What we've found since we've started trying to assess this is that: 1) it's hard to assess this (what kind of artifact do you use? Do you tape the presentation? Do you require them to do an online version? You can imagine faculty trying to deal with the technical issues related to this) and 2) we aren't doing a very good job of teaching this.
This has led to some really good discussions in our department about how to do this right (while assessment can be a bear, it can also produce good discussion and learning amongst faculty and students). It turns out one of our faculty members was really focusing on teaching students to do this, so now many of us have adopted his methods.
For me, I think skill based outcomes are really critical in this day and age. Yes - students do need content and it is good that they take courses across a variety of fields, but these skills are the things they will take with them.
At the end of every semester (after finals) there's a day set aside and each student must present on SOMETHING from the semester. The presentation can be a music performance, a video of work they've done, a talk, or a poster presentation.
Professors, students, and outside visitors attend this Expo.
Because this is an end of EVERY semester thing, students have 8 chances at this.
There's not necessarily any direct instruction in presentations, but the chance to present regularly to people outside of your class and to see what/how other people are presenting gives people a lot of chances to improve.
Here at Proprietary Art School, we offer public speaking as part of our General Education curriculum. We also offer an online version of the public speaking course, where the students send in video recordings of their speeches. I am not sure how such an online course works out in practice, since an important part of public speaking is talking in front of a live audience.
However, over time I have become a convert to the public speaking requirement. I think the requirement serves multiple purposes. First, it is a good sorter of first year students. While the predictive value is mainly on the lower end, I notice that students who struggle in this class are bound to struggle in their other classes, too. When I advise 1st & 2nd year students, I always look to see how they did in this class; often, our conversation (and my advice) about their college experience will start from there. Second, most students report that they really did gain useful communication skills that they continue to use from the class. Third, it is one of the few formal contexts in which our many first-generation college students are socialized into the (often unspoken) norms of college classrooms, because part of the course includes very intentional discussion of how to participate effectively in classes and how to approach profs, admins, and other students outside of class in a professional and efficacious manner. On a purely self-interested level, I find it is easier to manage classroom discussions and individual student interactions(including appropriate email etiquette and social media use), when I have a group of students who have already taken this course.
That said, we have begun to move toward an "across the curriculum" approach for all of our communication expectations, and I think that makes a lot of sense. The two things that tug at the corners of my mind, though, are whether I am equipped (as somebody outside that field with no formal training at all) to teach these skills, and how I should assess students in this area. These are professional development issues, and it requires that my school cough up a bit of money to provide faculty support for such endeavors. Of course, it also requires faculty buy-in, which is tricky to achieve in the face of lingering bad feelings about how this requirement achieved its prime position in our gen eds in the first place. The latter speaks to the political realities of programmatic changes and turf. The former, though, would be true anywhere, even with faculty approval of the changes. If you're going to ask faculty across disciplinary boundaries to reinforce some core set of skills or values, then you need to offer on-going support, training, and useful advice to make it possible and sustainable.