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Academics

Retention, Cohesion, Global Citizenship Frame Discussion on General Education

by Christian Diaz, News Editor

Are general education requirements little more than a checklist of classes students need to “get out of the way?”

Some faculty worry that the current model lacks vision and meaning.

Though there is no due date for a proposal, general education has been on professors’ radars since the Wabash survey conducted last year demonstrated that students were least satisfied with the academic portion of the college’s triad.

An ongoing self-evaluation has been questioning what it is that the college is achieving as a liberal arts institution, and how general education promotes the mission of the college.

According to Dean of Academics Paula Garrett, the gen-ed structure has several purposes: to ensure exposure to key issues tackled by different fields, to assist students in honing their interests, and to develop a set of skills that make graduates competitive in the labor market.

Faculty has identified four learning outcomes that are to be intentionally introduced, reinforced, and polished under a reformed structure: community-mindedness, critical thinking, communication, and research skills.

Professor of Psychology Kathryn Burleson has been designated for the role of facilitating discussion among faculty.

The ideal student that the college will seek to cultivate under a reformed structure, developed from the writing of Michael Byers, is referred to as the “Engaged Global Citizen.”

According to Burleson, the working definition of Global Citizenship includes empowering students to understand and participate at the local, regional, national, and global levels. A Global Citizen thinks and acts responsibly with regard to these levels as well as to social, cultural, economic, political, and environmental issues.

To achieve this, many feel the curriculum needs to be woven together more effectively.

Garret believes academic departments are too compartmentalized, that the college should strive to achieve interdisciplinarity.

“I want us to find a point in our curriculum where we require a synthesis of different fields, [but] it is possible faculty doesn’t want to go there,” Garret said.

There is a concern that students experience intense engagement in their curriculum during their first year seminar and again during their senior year when they take advanced courses and a capstone. However, in between these stages, some professors worry students are left to float in waters aimlessly and with little support.

In effect, this situation might be the reason students drop out or transfer after their sophomore year in alarming numbers.

One strategy that has been put on the table that could curb this would be to introduce required sophomore year seminars that follow a thematic track and are taught by several professors.

Others have proposed requiring students to develop a portfolio that showcases the culmination of all their work and to infuse it into a final project. But not everyone is alarmed.

There is a strong voice coming from a group of faculty who believe the current structure should be left in place as is. They argue that a checklist system grants students autonomy to design their own curriculum.

However, Burleson believes there is enough momentum to propel a change, even if it’s in “baby steps.”

Garrett agrees. “My best guess is that we will end up with a hybrid,” she said, “something that has elements from our current system echoed right there and some things added to it.”

The loudest consensus is that any change will be difficult, not only in deciding what aspect of the requirements to reform but also in how to transition into a new system.

“It’s a very difficult and thorny issue because any system people might use is going to encounter something it doesn’t do as well as the current system and other things it might promote better than the current system,” Ben Feinberg, division chair of the department of social sciences said. “Any kind of change is going to hurt a little bit.”

Burleson acknowledged the difficulty of change, especially “for a small campus, [where] one seemingly minor change impacts a lot of people and other programs.”

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