Our first guiding principle has been to make it clear to students, faculty, and staff why students are taking their general education courses.
Clarity of Educational Objectives
Designing a General Education curriculum that maintains its clarity of purpose over the long term requires careful use of language. Simply put, it means describing each requirement not by the subject area, but by the learning outcomes to be achieved. This shift of priorities in the description of the system has multiple benefits.
Learning outcomes are not uniquely associated with the departments that provide them. The subject-driven model effectively stereotypes the education provided by our departments, thereby overlooking and forbidding unique and interesting ways for students to achieve the desired learning outcomes. In a learning-outcome-based General Education model, the judgment of experts in their own disciplines is relied upon to generate an appealing curriculum with a complete description of the opportunities available to students.
When the learning outcomes that the course should provide are contained within the title, the purpose behind taking a course becomes clearer. A move beyond subject lists also allows for natural inclusion of multi-disciplinary courses in the General Education curriculum, because each course is evaluated based upon its value to the student’s education instead of simply upon the department(s) that offer it.
Clarity Concerning Certification
Maintaining clarity of purpose requires a certification process for any course that proposes to meet the learning outcomes of a category, and then recertification at regular intervals to assure that the certified courses have not diverged from their original purposes.
We envision that the steady state certification of these new measures will primarily be addressed by existing university committees. However, the initial surge of certifications will require an intense effort and likely an augmented committee.
The importance of the certification process cannot be overstated. Without alignment of the course reality with the General Education purpose, little would change in a practical sense, and we would have failed to deliver a refreshed curriculum.
Clarity Concerning Assessment
A learning-outcome-driven General Education fits extremely well into emerging models of assessment. The principal goal of assessment is to measure the effectiveness of any given course in meeting its educational goals. Courses in the new General Education system, by virtue of the learning-outcome-defined categories, will have clear and expected measures.
We believe that each course that applies for certification in the General Education system not only must specify how it meets the learning outcomes of a category, but also how its effectiveness will be assessed. We also believe that faculty involvement in the development and use of the assessment process will lead to continuing course improvement. See chapter 4 for more information on certification.
Logically, we rely upon the expertise of our faculty in their own fields. No one can judge the quality of a history paper as well as a history professor, and no one can judge the quality of student performance on a physics exam as well as a physics professor. Therefore, we envision a simple mechanism by which faculty expertise can be brought into the assessment cycle through the Undergraduate Program Directors.
We believe that General Education courses must apply for recertification every four years and that the collected assessment material will be included as part of the recertification process.