General Education Review Committee
Open Hearings, Spring 1998
Summary of Curtis Wood's introductory remarks at each hearing:
The purpose of the open hearings is for the committee to listen to your ideas about general education and about the committee's proposal. It is the intent of the committee to have an in-depth discussion about general education, with the goal of raising the quality and status of general education on this campus. We would like to create a general education program that involves the best teachers, and gives them the freedom to do their best in an atmosphere of trust and reward. We want a program that is capable of self-improvement based on sound assessment principles. We want a program that students understand thoroughly, that has coherence and that makes a bridge between general education and the major. The program should have a strong leadership voice that can command resources and that can adequately reward participating faculty
Development of the program has been a two-year process. The first year was spent reading and discussing national trends and models of general education, and trying to reach a consensus of what we need here at Western. Last Fall, we stated our values for general education in the Fundamental Principles, and held a Forum to hear faculty response and input. This Spring, we presented the curricular part of a program proposal which is still under development. Some aspects of the program proposal are familiar, such as the Perspectives, and some aspects are new, such as the freshman seminar and the use of learning communities. The committee is concurrently developing administrative and assessment proposals. There are working groups of committee members and interested expert faculty developing the composition and writing requirements and the Wellness course. An approval process is presently before the Faculty Senate and will be considered for action at the April Senate meeting.
We want to hear the views of the University community on the program proposal, and to be alerted to things we have not addressed in the proposal. We realize that many questions will come from the perspective of individual disciplines, but we ask that the larger goals of the program be considered as well. The University engages in this kind of general education discussion only once every 15 years, so we need to be thorough. We need to hear if we are trying to be too ambitious, as we do not want to ask for too much change and risk not accomplishing any change at all. We want to know if the proposal is not ambitious enough. We want to know what we have missed in the proposal. There are some things that are not in the proposal because they were discussed by the committee and rejected for various reasons. There may be other things we have not talked about. There may be aspects of the program we need to consider more carefully. We need your guidance to make sure that we produce a program that is the best general education program for WCU.
Open Hearing 1
March 20, 1998
Alan Moore asked to explore the upper level writing component. Curtis reported on this morning's meeting with the English department, in which a work group was set up to discuss the composition elements of the program further. Regarding use of best faculty and associated rewards, the present outcome is not as good as the concept because of extensive use of part time faculty. English needs to be funded so that the best faculty can do composition teaching. (not to say that part time faculty are not good instructors, but that the transient nature of the teaching population in these courses makes quality control and curriculum uniformity an ongoing struggle). A junior level writing intensive course in disciplines attempts to help students with writing as expression. Alan does not feel competent to be an English instructor and would prefer better preparation of students before he gets them to avoid the need to teach basic mechanics. He would prefer that students to focus on mechanics in the freshman year. Faculty feel students need to read and write more throughout the curriculum. We need to make this an issue so that it gets done in the curriculum.
Paul Brandt asked about raising general education credit hours from 41 to 43. How will this affect majors/departments that have no more room in their programs? Curtis responded that the program proposal now has 43 hours in it, but rather than worrying about this, we should focus on the issues and then adjust the details to accommodate or compromise to fit the program we want to have. Alan Moore reminded us that before the present program, it was possible for a course to count in a major and for general education and this helped somewhat with the credit hour problem. Further, Biology is developing an Environmental Studies program that can be thought of as a "general education in science" curriculum and thus would benefit from the possibility of allowing overlap with the major and gen. ed. Roger Bacon stated that, also before the present program, general education courses were beginning courses in the major. When courses were created just for general education, the quality of the courses began to decline. Perhaps we should look again at first courses being used for general education courses. Gary Pool mentioned that the committee has discussed the development of smaller courses with narrower topics for general education rather than the large lecture type courses offered (in sciences) in the present program. These courses would be based on trusting the department and professor to create a course in which the instructor has a special interest that would carry over into the teaching and the student's experience with the course. Introductory-to-major courses are of higher quality than gen ed only courses because faculty are committed to providing good instruction to prospective majors. This quality is consistent with "raising the bar" whereas now we expect too little in gen ed courses. John Habel remarked that lower expectations are something that has happened, but are not a structural component of the present program.
Ann Rogers said that it will be necessary to place an enrollment cap on courses that are writing intensive. Curtis responded that the program proposal states the use of "appropriate class size," leaving the determination of that size in the hands of the department. The use of "best faculty" to teach gen ed is a new challenge for departments limited in size. All faculty must take a share of the gen ed teaching in these departments. This could change the way we hire faculty if we expect good teaching and participation of all faculty in gen ed teaching. Alan Moore noted that the use of small learning communities is a way to add the benefits of small student groups to classes that are larger in size.
Paul Brandt asked about the Wellness course component. Chris Tuten responded that this will come from a revamping of the Health 120 class, but whether it would just expand the current content, add an activity component or include some other structure has not yet been decided. How did the committee decide this should be three credit hours? Faculty need to offer their opinions about this component. Is this college level material? The presence of this in the program proposal comes from asking the question "what do our students need?" and realizing that interpersonal skills and knowledge, and a healthy attitude toward life are important life skills. Daryl Hale offered that physical well being was a component of ancient education of the whole student. Alan Moore offered that students are at an impressionable age to set habits for the rest of their lives. Paul Heckert expressed concern that there is no explicit physical activity component to the course as presented. Curtis Wood responded that the activity could be a part of the three credit hours, or that enrollment and participation in activity courses as electives could be a by-product of doing the course well. Debbie Singleton suggested the idea of a course that has two class hours and one hour of activity, and tries a number of different activity possibilities. Brian Railsback noted that trying different activities (mountain biking, hiking, paddling) that are characteristic of the region would contribute to student's sense of place.
David Dorondo noted that the reorganization of general education is headed toward increasing demands on students. What steps might be taken to identify students in need of remediation and to provide remediation? The state will not fund remediation at the university level. The program proposal attempts to increase student support by offering the student/faculty contact of a freshman seminar and student support of learning communities.
Suzanne Moore is concerned about an apparent weakness in the liberal arts, and that the program appears to be skewed toward the social sciences. In particular, there is no literature requirement, and the idea of a student going through four year of college with no literature course is worrisome. Nory Prochaska responded that the perspectives area is only defined in terms of course classifications and a new philosophy, but that specific courses have not been defined. Suzanne thought that the only place for literature would be in Humanities. In the present program, literature occurs in Humanities, Comparative Cultures, and Human Past. These are all categories represented in the proposed program (Humanities, Comparative Cultures and History), and a literature requirement is not so much left out as it is not put in yet. There was no intention to leave literature out of the program proposal. Bruce Henderson noted that it is important to differentiate between literature and literary criticism in defining such a requirement.
Paul Heckert expressed concern about the number of hours in the sciences being reduced from 7 to 6. Most introductory-to-major science courses are presently 4 hours, so three-hour courses that include lab experiences would have to be new gen ed (only) courses. These courses would reflect a bias toward active learning, and necessitate a tradeoff between active learning and coverage of material. Gary Pool again advocated for courses that cover fewer topics in more depth; these would contribute toward higher morale in these courses for both students and instructors.
Nick Norgaard noted that the use of best instructors in general education might mean the use of poorer instructors in the majors. Departments might be unwilling to make this tradeoff. A genuine re-examination of general education should promote discussion in the major. General education needs a fighting chance to become a significant part of our students' educations, not a compartmentalized piece to be "gotten out of the way". It's much more important than that.
Open Hearing 2
March 24, 1998
Steve Eberly asked if the committee has looked at various models of general education programs. Nory Prochaska responded that in our "research year" we began to examine other models, but found that much of the literature about gen ed review advised that we look at our own institution and find a foundation philosophy that fit who we are, first, and then build a program that meets the needs of our philosophy and institution. So, we did look at models, but our program is not a copy or hybrid of any particular other model, and that is not the basis of its development.
Robert Kehrberg asked if we have modified our Fundamental Principles since they were presented in the fall. There have been no modifications at this time.
June Wytock asked how we would incorporate diversity, ethical issues and honoring differences between people. Daryl Hale gave the example of a new text on ethics in college student life that could be incorporated into a freshman seminar. Moral reflection could be considered with respect to a particular piece of literature. The freshman seminar is intended to introduce students to the goals of general education and to deal with issues that run throughout general education courses. An emphasis on reading and writing is central. Would this course be team-taught? This is not built into the program because team teaching is historically expensive and failure-prone (here and at other institutions). We do not envision a "contentless" course, and want to cover far more than the USI-style transition issues, thus the incorporation of a "great book" approach to readings. There would be an oversight committee to approve reading selections. We want to emphasize content and build reading experience and the valuing of reading. There would be a diversity of content around shared themes.
June returned the discussion to the issue of a "predatory environment" for minorities on campus, and asked how this might be addressed. Gender and general social relationships might be addressed also in the Wellness component, which would include communication, interaction, roles, behaviors and expectations.
Sharon Jacques asked at what level would a transfer student not be required to take the freshman seminar? She was thinking of nursing capstone students who start in the junior year. In general, the committee is aware that transfer issues need to be dealt with in a practical way. The freshman seminar is intended for entering, beginning college students. It is a goal to make the general education program more visible and to teach the concept of general education "early and often".
Elizabeth Addison noted that the integrative function of the freshman seminar is not stated clearly in the proposal. Would the freshman seminar be integrative, or is that the role of the learning communities? Integration would be incorporated on many levels. The freshman seminar would begin introducing integration at a level appropriate for entering college students. Freshman seminars could be included in learning communities. LC teams could have a text that is used in different ways in all LC courses. However, the common experience for a LC need not be a text, but could be a movie, theater experience, a concert, or something on television.
Carla Cosio referred back to the discussion of the wellness course and added that wellness goes beyond a physical education component, but includes the social, intellectual, vocational and spiritual environments. The wellness discussion should consider the whole person.
Robert Kehrberg stated that there are degree programs that will have difficulty accommodating a 43 credit hour general education program, and that a very good rationale will have to be given for proposing an upward change in credit hours. There are some areas in the present program (math, computer literacy, the sciences) are waived if higher level courses are taken; this favors students in these programs by freeing up general education hours. There is an issue of fairness in these situations that needs to be addressed, and could be used to help programs that are crowded due to accrediting agency requirements or very full major programs.
Jim Nicholl stated that the proposed program shrinks what is required in some areas, such as sciences. The community college articulation agreement requires eight credit hours in the sciences and our proposal only requires six. We should not "water down" these requirements. Gary Pool answered that transfer credits should be considered on a course-by-course basis rather than a credit hour basis. Jim stated that we should avoid being too idiosyncratic or our program will be too difficult to correlate with transfer programs. The committee has not yet had a discussion of correlating our program with applied science programs. Gary commented that a chemistry course that has a well-integrated lab component and is integrated with the goals of the proposal program could be a better course than a traditional four-hour lecture and lab course. There is concern that the general education proposal math and science requirements are the wrong track for students headed into technical areas, which need four credit hour courses for accreditation. Transfer considerations both into and out of WCU should be looked at.
Steve Eberly asked if there has been any discussion of the value of including foreign language as a general education requirement. Foreign languages show up in the program requirements of many major (BA) programs. Students prefer not to take foreign languages. There has been no extensive discussion of this requirement in the committee. Daryl Hale said he wished we could teach in original Greek and Latin, but noted that students need to go through a lot of memorization in learning a language well enough to enjoy its literature, so we may have to give up on this classical approach to use of language. Jim Nicholl asked if any NC schools require foreign language besides Chapel Hill; Jim Byer noted that a few do, but that the requirement shows up in some unexpected places. Steve Eberly suggested that the use of "language tables" connected to freshman seminar requirements could build on what students learn in high school and add an appreciation of travel; this could give validity to something that students learned in high school without necessitating foreign language instruction. Scott Philyaw noted that if we include all of the requirements we would really like with significant credit hours, we could easily come up with a five-year general education program. This would really adversely affect enrollment.
Brian Railsback asked the group to consider how they felt about the use of the term "freshman". Is it somewhat negative in connotation? What about the name "general education"? Please offer other suggestions, such as liberal studies or liberal arts; exciting programs seem to have interesting names, but there are no exciting general education programs.
Barbara Lovin commented that while the committee has not worried extensively about credit hours, there are some ways in which we have given hours back to some majors. The capstone requirement and the upper level writing requirement are courses already offered in many majors; if these become general education requirements, then the majors can do other things with these credit hours in their programs.
Brian commented that the majority of gen ed courses being at the 100 level promotes the "get it out of the way" attitude. In order to spread the gen ed experience over all four years, it might be necessary to allow "double dipping" when upper level courses are incorporated. Historically, gen ed was considered a foundation to be completed before upper level work was started. We would like it to be integrated throughout the four years, to be less of a base, and be a more vertical program than a flat foundation. In order to get students thinking and not expecting "grade 13" from gen ed, we need to change what is in the program, not just the structure of the program.
Sharon Jacques asked if the upper level writing requirement could be spread out over several semesters. The nursing curriculum is very dense in the junior year and does not have room for another three-credit course, but could accommodate one credit hour in each of several semesters. The program should be able to accommodate proposals from majors and departments that suggest such variations as long as they are well considered. There are other ways to meet the intent, if not the letter of the law.
Gary Pool raised the question that if we allow upper level courses to waive some perspective areas, should we allow all of them to be waive-able, or should we not allow waivers? We need to think about the need to screen and advise student selections to avoid traps and diversions. Perspectives courses need not all be 100 level courses. One extreme is to allow any course from an area or department, including (beginning with) the first course in the major. Several people contributed to this discussion, noting that upper level courses could be somewhat narrow in scope, instead of the usual "survey" model of gen ed courses. We need to get rid of the "Mickey Mouse" courses and attitudes. Special topics courses might be fairly specific, but more exciting to instructors and thus to students. Courses at the 200 or 300 level could meet gen ed requirements and general elective requirements in the major. This raised the yet unanswered question of what determines or characterizes a gen ed course? Courses that reveal "disciplinary secrets" might be richer than survey courses. It would be possible to consider including some number of each type (survey, first course in major, focused or narrow, instructor determined) in a distribution model.
Jim Nicholl asked if the committee has looked at programs across campus to determine what is the maximum number of hours that the dense programs can accommodate for gen ed. The committee has not looked at these kinds of hard numbers yet.
Elizabeth Addison raised the question of overlapping categories in the perspectives. Clearly this needs to be examined again by the committee, but isn't so rigidly defined that appearances are really a problem. Daryl Hale offered that there are many distribution models: some that place History in the foundations, some consider whether all students need a history course, some history courses are taught by departments other than history. These characteristics have not yet been decided in our proposal. The humanities/fine arts overlap has not been resolved yet, either. The proposal started with the distribution in the present program; clearly it needs more work. What is the minimum number of categories needed in Perspectives? Behavioral Science, Arts & Humanities, History & Culture might work. Comparative Cultures has always been and still is an oddball, consisting of or offering disciplines and inter-disciplines.
Open Hearing 3
March 26, 1998
Nancy Norris made a brief statement on behalf of modern foreign languages, related to goals, perspectives and quality issues. Language and culture courses have counted in the past in the humanities area. Language 101 courses combine language instruction with instruction about cultures. We need to maintain some form of specific foreign language courses. They contribute toward oral communication skills, global society experience, cultural diversity and a broadened worldview. Instruction directly relates to our global society. With a literature requirement, humanities should be six hours instead of three to accommodate literature and language instruction. The highest point of student interest in the past has been in the first language and culture course. Patti Cutspec asked if the ideal would be to keep the courses as they are, or to change the structure of how language and culture are taught. Learning the language is necessary to really beginning to understand the culture of a country. Beginning courses are speaking-intensive; writing cannot begin until some language is mastered. Brian Railsback asked if the sophomore literature requirement were kept as it is now, would the MFL department be able to contribute by teaching literature courses? There are faculty in the MFL department who would be willing and able to teach such courses. Brian also noted that there are foreign language requirements covered in many major program requirements rather than in general education.
Larry Hill offered that there are courses that have the intent of literature courses taught in other departments, including drama and performance of literature in CTA. This is hampered by the textbook rental system that makes using a new work each semester difficult. But, literature could be thought of more widely than just as reading of traditional works.
Larry switched to another vein by saying that the program proposal begins to bring the interdisciplinary future to a faculty that wants to stay in a disciplinary focus. A strong disciplinary focus is a disservice in preparing students. Establishing learning communities with faculty working together from different disciplines is important. The example of more than one solution to the study of literature is needed to open student's minds. However, regarding the issue of 42 or 43 credit hours--what if a department already has a capstone course? How does the capstone element in general education count? The committee assumes everyone already has or will soon have a capstone experience. We propose only one hour integrated into the capstone experience to provide an assessment opportunity. This assessment could take many forms. Why does this hour have to go to general education? What if an accrediting agency requires it to be in the discipline? Bruce Henderson noted that some have argued that these things, such as assessment could be done as credit-less general education requirements. Barbara Lovin noted that the same thing could be done with writing intensive courses (or product intensive, in the case that writing is not the most effective expression for the discipline, such as theater).
Lisen Roberts asked the committee to "walk through" the student's general education experience. Curtis noted that there would be no one uniform experience, due to varying requirement of majors for when general education would need to be completed. Except for a few majors, there would be 15 hours of core courses in the freshman year. This would be filled out with either major courses or perspectives courses. The present program is thought of as a foundation to be completed before the major; the proposal incorporates general education throughout the four years. Essentials of the program are the freshman seminar which covers university life, expectations including reading and writing standards, a clear understanding of fitting into the world including sense of place, and some thematic content. Learning communities are an essential element to give students a tie to their university life, to reveal the relatedness of knowledge, and to provide coherence. Larry Hill again opened our minds to a learning community created around a play being done by the theater department; this could couple two or more courses by studying all aspects of what the play involves. What else does Lisen need to understand the program? She's not sure. Brian pointed out that we have attempted to solve two big problems of the current program: (1) that there is no integration in student's minds, and (2) that the program is not developmental and does not take advantage of the fact that students grow over four years. We ask freshman to make very important decisions about course selection, or make those choices based on what classes advisors can fit them into, and thus devalue their general education experience. Patti Cutspec noted that we are trying to shift student's perspectives from piecemeal to holistic. Bruce Henderson offered that he was unclear on the concept of "integration" but that the program could seem more integrated to students by connecting with their interests. Learning communities and freshman seminar could link their interests to other courses, so they are not merely going through the motions of education. Patti said we are trying to shift student perspectives toward investment in their education; learning communities encourage them to invest in relationships with people they see regularly in their classes. John Habel offered that we are confronting the issue of dealing with the interests that students bring with them to the university. We want to expose them to new things, but need to respect their interests so they are not afraid to add new interests. Bruce noted that most of what we offer students has the interest of vegetables at dinner. We offer a lot of broccoli. We need to address what makes a course broccoli or lemon meringue pie. We need to respect personal tastes and choices in what we offer. Most of the people present at this gathering had missed lunch, so this discussion was an attention-getter.
Larry Hill asked about assessment. Will he be required to teach scientific method? It was agreed that content-level assessment is ineffective. We need to assess skills development. Patti offered that we need to try to overcome our regimentation, that sometimes having a dessert-first meal is okay (back to the food analogy).
Rob Routhieaux had several questions and statements: How do we get faculty to integrate (interact)? This is not a behavioral habit. When will this program be effective? What is the time line (the manger in him needs to know)? The mathematics requirement is not strong enough. There is discontinuity between the freshman and senior years. Writing needs to be everywhere. The so-called "culture of silence" tends to be a lack of trust and a willingness to blame others; we focus blame on the English department if students write poorly instead of taking responsibility for contributing to their writing development ourselves. Linda Kinnear noted that in order to contribute to their writing development, we need to know how to teach the writing process; how many faculty are equipped for this? Larry Hill said disciplines need to be responsible and use the CC grade marks. Bruce offered that most faculty don't understand what it means to teach the writing process. Students think English courses teach them to think and don't see the connection to discipline-based writing. Nory Prochaska said that a genuine, strong writing-across-the-curriculum authority could go a long way toward improving this writing buck-pass, and this was the ideal that the committee envisioned in the writing structure of the proposal. Linda restated that the average faculty member cannot know how to teach the writing process without some education in composition teaching. Several participants offered that writing does not carry over from freshman composition to disciplines (lack of coherence and integration between courses); writing instruction is not the responsibility of the English department alone, we all must contribute.
Rob Routhieaux asked again when this program change might take place. Curtis said that originally our charge predicted effectiveness in the Fall of 1999, but the committee is behind in the program development. Are we allowing too much input for an effective development process? Not yet, there is still much to offer and say. John Habel reminded us that many elements will need to be piloted or phased in, but some of that is underway with Academic Affair's experiments with learning communities. Brian reminded us that the Honors College is also a piloting learning community.
There was further discussion of the place of writing instruction in the program; clearly there is much to talk about this topic alone. Linda Kinnear stated again that faculty development will be needed to assure effective writing instruction across the faculty. Brian noted that there is a developmental difference in teaching writing to freshman compared to seniors; seniors are much more motivated to write well in their discipline as they are anticipating entering the Real World. Bruce offered that learning is domain-specific, so teaching writing outside of a domain context is a "weak method" for learning (this is a technical term, not a judgement).
Curtis offered that with regard to the Wellness component, that another working group is being formed including faculty from Health and Human Performance and other units to whom this course is of interest.
There were comments about class size. Lisen commented that freshman seminar classes need to be fifteen or fewer students to be effective. Larry said that we must realize that "appropriate class size" means different things to different department.
March 30, 1998
Open Hearing 4
Lewis Sutton noted that before the last general education review, there were more than 41 hours and that the present program is a reduction in hours. Are there similar credit hour guidelines that we have been constrained to in our review? Also, is there a feeling that the present general education program is "broken" and if so, what needs to be fixed about it? Curtis Wood replied that the charge from Chancellor Bardo to the committee was explicit in saying that we need to stay near the 41 credit hours of the present program, and that drastic change would be problematic. The 43 hours of the program proposal is not non-negotiable; we feel that there are more fundamental issues to be settled first, and then details such as credit hours can be worked out. Implicit in the Chancellor's charge was that general education needed fixing. It is overdue for reconsideration, and we can do a better job. Lewis asked again, what do people consider to be "broken"? The present program is seen as fragmented, disconnected, students do not see the relevance, it does not evolve over time. The one recent change was replacing the TRE category with oral communication, and this is seen to have been driven largely by the administration, though it was said to have come from the faculty. It is a fundamental of higher education that general education needs to be re-examined periodically.
Mary Warner asked about the Perspectives component. Why were the categories chosen, and what is in them in terms of specific courses? Gary Pool responded that the subcommittee attempted to redefine the categories of the present program more traditionally while sticking basically with the credit hour distribution of the present program. The group felt that History is one category that should be included. Mary asked if History needs to be separated from the Humanities. What is included in the Humanities? Nory Prochaska commented that the decision about categories was not the result of extensive discussion, but done rather briefly based on the current program; what was discussed more carefully was the philosophy behind the Perspectives. If the categories seem half-baked, it is because they are, and the hearings have reinforced that the committee needs to examine these more carefully. What would you suggest these categories include? Jim Byer noted that he feels that human behavior and institutions should be separated rather than being lumped into social sciences. This would allow control over selections within these six credit hours. Mary Warner noted that if general education does move across four years, there is lots of potential for development of new courses and mentioned some examples from her department (the Bible as literature, film as literature). Are the Humanities supposed to include literature? What besides literature? Curtis Wood said the committee wanted a shift toward things that faculty can become excited about teaching rather than a nuts and bolts distribution system. The faculty should have more freedom to propose courses so that there would be more courses available that reflect what the faculty are inspired by in their teaching.
Claire Marsh commented about fragmentation—students she sees say it is not the categories of courses that are frustrating, but that students are expected to memorize large quantities of material that is not of particular interest to them. Student expectations and ways courses are taught are the problem. Use of LCs would allow students to make their own connections in material. We should allow students to coordinate what areas they want to study and to make their own connections. Also, the issue of character is important. The upper level component of general education should be about ethics, personal responsibility, and being the best human being they can be. Again, taking time to revisit these issues when students are juniors and have some perspective is useful. The University mission statement says we address these character issues. We need some opportunities at the upper level when students have perspective. This would make a stronger program. Curtis asked if this should be in general education rather than in the major. Claire said there must be crossover between the two. Leroy Kauffman noted that the committee wants the perspectives to be more flexible so students can choose courses that attract their interests. Students may not end up with as broad a distribution experience as we would like, but if they are genuinely engaged in the learning experience, they will end up more active learners and be able to fill in the gaps themselves. Mary Warner said the committee should specify the categories and then ask faculty and departments to design courses that they want to teach in the program. Curtis reiterated that what is different about the proposal is the context and degree of freedom in the perspectives areas. The present program has the seven skills areas and course criteria but finding common ground for some of the perspectives focus groups has not gone well. Doing all seven skills places constraints on courses and is hypocritical. The purpose of the new names for the perspectives categories is so that discussion within categories regarding shared goals does happen. Presently, there is no common ground or concepts and courses are incompatible within the artificial categories. These discussions within perspectives areas need a starting point that is more coherent. Gary Pool added that we can get away from survey courses to avoid requiring "memorization". Jim Byer cautioned that historically a goal of general education is to provide all educated members of society with a common base of information. Should we be giving some thought to this shared common knowledge that all educated members of society should know? Curtis reminded us that in the last general education discussion, this was a consideration and we are now living with the consequences of this thinking. We don't want to exclude broad survey courses, but these courses often draw comments that they "are too much like high school" and are "what students have had before". Claire reminded us that watching how students are graded can go a long way to avoiding the 13th grade attitude; large multiple-choice tests are not conducive to a higher level of teaching and learning. With the volume of information available doubling very frequently today, we need to teach students how to find information on their own and let go of the idea that there is some knowable common body of information that all students should see.
Mary Warner asked if the committee has looked at what other NC system schools are doing in general education, and how do we fit in with what they are doing, and with the CC articulation agreement. Are we too creative to fit into these programs? Gary Pool responded that we fit in the middle of statewide programs. Curtis Wood added that other NC schools systems were not considered up front, but that we have looked at this in the sense of looking at national trends and what in those trends is best for us. Among the 16 NC campuses, there is a lot of diversity, and some of the programs are very complicated. Some offer a tremendous array of courses. The committee has been encouraged to look at these programs as a reference point.
At this point, a large group of students joined the open hearing. They turned out to be members of Brian Railsback’s honors forum. They were given copies of the proposed program, and welcomed into the discussion.
Newt Smith addressed the areas of emphasis in the perspectives component. He suggested adding aesthetic and artistic valuing to the list of optional skills. This could be applied to many disciplines, for example to "elegance" in mathematical proofs or scientific theories, as well as to music, art and literature.
Ron Morgan returned to the foreign language question. He does not expect every student to take a foreign language course, but wants for students to have the choice of taking one. Where would this fit in? Learning a language is not so much a cultural experience as a specific skill. Curtis Wood noted that even beginning to learn a new language involves a series of courses that can take 9-12 credit hours. Lewis Sutton noted that this raises the question of what constitutes an exposure to a discipline; what is a significant level of development in any discipline? This is an issue for the faculty to consider and advise the committee on.
One of the students asked what do faculty and administrators want to develop in general education? General education should be covered in high school, and students at the college level would benefit from more electives. Curtis Wood responded that this question was a starting point for the committee’s discussions. Skill development is an important aspect of general education. Students arrive with some skills, but often not sufficient skills to do upper level college work. Further, some skills are the basis for life-long learning, and must be mastered at the college level. The student further questioned whether six hours in social and natural science placed a greater emphasis on these areas than on humanities. This student, an art major, is "curious" about science, but did not need another six hours that merely scraped the surface of a discipline. Often, general education courses are too simple; intellectual complexity comes from being able to appreciate literature and being "well read." Curtis responded that we live in an increasingly technologically complex world, and that the distribution in the perspectives is a balance. The most contentious area of general education at this point is the perspectives. There will be arguments about distribution of hours, and students need to have input into these discussions. Compared to many other institutions, WCU is in the appropriate ballpark. More important than numbers of hours is how these courses are taught. This is a new importance for us here at WCU. Also, we want students to see the connections between perspectives courses, and hence the development of learning communities. The student restated that students come to college to learn in their major and to learn past the high school level. Many general education courses seem to be the same as high school courses. Students want learning experiences they have never been exposed to before, including subject areas that are outside of the academic norm (i.e. spiritual). Is general education the place for these experiences? Lewis Sutton replied that general education tries to achieve a core and electives are the place for students to pursue "fringe" interests. We get some students who have good academic backgrounds, but we also have some that are weak, and we must serve these students as well; as a result, some aspects of any program may seem redundant to the well-prepared and capable student. The student remarked that having a variety of courses is helpful for students who are searching for a major, but courses should be at a level beyond high school. Some students want general education that parallels their chosen major, but a program of variety for the undecided is also needed.
Jerry Cook stated that in engineering technology, math and science requirements at a certain level are needed. We should move away from survey type courses and make sure that students are shown college level experiences. The move away from survey type courses could be toward special topics type courses with more depth. Gary Pool responded that courses such as a "chemistry of art" course would move away from survey courses and expose students to aspects they had not seen in high school. A student noted that a well-educated person needs breadth, but that taking a single course from a choice of art, music, and theater does not provide much of an exposure.
A student asked how we could deal with incoming students who have different quality of backgrounds. Lewis Sutton suggested developing a placement scheme that assured that students did not repeat high school material. The student asked is there a specific plan for this? Perhaps one that includes more variety in placement than the present math/English/oral communication scheme. Curtis replied that good advisement is more of a key to the placement issue than testing. Advising quality depends on faculty interest and enthusiasm. Gary Pool added that student interest is a factor, as well.
A student who has had experience as a Supplementary Instruction leader in general education science (biology) courses suggested that these courses must have organizing structure. Presently, there are four sections of Biology 101 and they are taught using four different approaches, one emphasizing biochemistry, one ecology, one a general survey course, and one an honors section focusing on Darwin. If we are going to provide student support, we would need to provide four tutors, one for each section. Curtis replied that student support is a problem; we want to provide variety and provide for faculty interest in courses, but need to avoid inappropriate material and must supply sufficient student support. Students are entitled to know what kind of course they are getting into at the start, and if there is variety between sections, students need to be informed of this when they register. A student offered that the science classes in general education need to consider what a non-science student needs to know.
A student asked why we wished to change the present general education system. Curtis replied that there are two reasons: (1) the present system is 13 years old, and these things should be re-examined periodically; and (2) there is a strong sense on campus that the present program is not working as it should.
Claire Marsh asked to return to considering the core of the program. It offers only one semester of freshman composition. Curtis responded that this issue is in a working group now for further discussion. The proposal includes three hours of composition the first year, followed by a strong writing-across-the-curriculum component and a return to a writing course in the junior year. This proposal has aroused discussion, so we are looking at it further by way of the working group. This working group is considering what is the most effective way to teach composition in the context of the new program proposal and philosophy. Nory Prochaska added that the proposal means to address how composition is taught throughout the general education experience, not just the number of hours of freshman composition, which compartmentalizes writing too much in the minds of students and faculty.
A student asked again about placement and assessment tests. These must be relevant to students needs. Students studying literature need to have good basic grammar skills, and the composition test does not address this. Students who have good grammar skills but are not good writers cannot place out of composition. Curtis responded that taking general education seriously means a thorough discussion of all of undergraduate education. Ultimately, the institution must also reconsider all of the connecting parts, including the majors. A good discussion will make this reconsideration happen.
A student asked if learning communities will be offered only during the freshman year, or throughout the undergraduate curriculum. Curtis replied that learning communities are important in the freshman year to get students thinking about general education, but will also be available across all four years. There are many ways to do learning communities. They involve partnerships among faculty. The student was concerned that learning communities in majors would generate ideas in the major area only and not produce integration of "new ideas". Curtis said that the use of learning communities is up to faculty member's judgement. If we adopt learning communities, there are many issues to consider such as how many will students be expected to participate in? There are yet many questions to consider about learning communities.
Jim Byer asked students what they think about the freshman seminar proposal. A student who had transferred from a school that offered a freshman seminar noted that our freshman seminars were supposed to implement the student sense of place, integration of knowledge, moral reflection and liberal arts and sciences emphasis fundamental principles. The student was wondering how all of the principles would be integrated into a single seminar. The student's experience with freshman seminar suggested three or four types of seminars geared toward student interests. Curtis replied that we envision freshman seminars that consider student and faculty interests, and that seminars would have different themes. Nory Prochaska offered that the fundamental principles are very broad concepts meant to influence all of the general education program, and could not be implemented in a single course; courses would address various of the principles, but not exhaustively. Lewis Sutton noted that the freshman seminar sounded a bit like it should be a major course. Curtis replied that the freshman seminar honors a student's inclination, but not a commitment as solid as major selection.
Newt Smith noted that the learning communities have no credit hours defined. Curtis replied that we would need some standard regarding number of learning communities and how many hours they might involve, but that these specifics had not been determined yet. They might be constructed around primarily general education courses, but what would faculty consider appropriate? The implementation of learning communities would depend on student experiences and on resources. Leroy Kauffman offered that learning communities are more pedagogy than a general education course requirement. A student asked if learning communities would last for one semester (yes) and how many courses would be involved (not yet determined). The student said she liked meeting different people in different classes and might not enjoy being grouped with a learning community. What if it had members that did not get along? What about conflicts between dominant talkers and reticent speakers? Curtis said that these types of community problems need to be worked out. Professors would be working to make connections between courses; can they also do problem solving with community dysfunction? We have not had experience with this and will have to wait and see the extent of these kinds of problems. A student offered that learning communities are a nice idea, but how will the requirement be handled for students who transfer (in or out). They would not be closed to students who were interested in participating regardless of requirement.
A student asked about tailoring courses to individuals. For example, oral communication courses are tailored to reticent speakers, and this is extremely useful. Would this be done for other types of classes? Tailoring classes would produce more choices, such as the chemistry of art course suggested before. Brian Railsback took this idea a bit further and suggested that it would be nice if advisors were allowed to use their judgement with students who would not benefit as much from a general education level course as they would from an upper level course in the same area. There are students who are beyond the 200 level literature courses and would get more out of a more focused upper level lit. course. This could produce utter chaos, but do students wish this kind of advising could be considered? The present general education program will not accommodate this kind of thinking. Students responded that this would be attractive. Claire Marsh said the committee should explore the use of course substitutions. Lewis Sutton agreed, and a student recommended allowing upper level waivers in all areas.
Lewis Sutton brought the discussion back to the language requirement. He noted that there are two types of requirement, entrance requirements and exit requirements. We presently do not have either; could we adopt an entrance requirement of one year of some language? This would prevent students going through four years of college with never having had exposure to a foreign language. Is the general education review concerned with this? Curtis replied that we have not considered this but that it has come up in several of the open hearings, indicating that we should consider it, so we will. A student commented that he had two years of Spanish in high school, and many students have had some language as well in order to keep open options of colleges that require language for entrance. Thus, such a requirement should not be a difficulty to many students. We should have an option of language study in general education. It is a good way to build in diversity, and students need to know about foreign languages and cultures. Claire Marsh added that most incoming freshmen have had language, but transfer students from community colleges and non-traditional students often have not.
Claire also suggested that the committee experiment with optional learning communities. Learning communities offer a massive organizational and registration nightmare for advisors if implemented overnight.
A student stated that the present CS 101 course covers skills that most students have already, and should be considered carefully in light of the freshman computer requirement. Nory Prochaska and Lewis Sutton both addressed the upcoming computer skills requirement for public school graduation. Nory added that computer use will be integrated throughout WCU's curriculum as a result of the computer requirement, and continuing education will offer basic skills workshops for students who need them, so that computer basic skills should not be a part of general education. Curtis added that the whole program will have to have some kind of phased implementation that will not hurt or hinder any students' progress toward graduation.
Jim Byer made several remarks: (1) he believes a virtue of the present general education program is that it has always been part of the plan that students can challenge general education courses by examination. This is a forgotten and drastically underutilized component of the program that should be a part of the new program and should be enforced; (2) he is part of a minority that supports a foreign language requirement; (3) Gary Pool's comment that the committee considered a History course to be a mandatory component is correct, but other areas should be thought of the same way, such as fine arts and the literary arts. Curtis noted that the "need for a history course" does not mean a History department course; there are many places these courses could be taught (Byer agreed). The committee needs to think about what course areas are mandatory in its further consideration of the Perspectives areas.
A student added that the option to challenge courses by examination needs to be made clear to students. The mechanism needs to be made more comfortable; students are shy about approaching a professor and saying that they think they already know the course content and what to take an exam to test this. The policies for waivers or substitutions of courses need to be reasonable and fair. Barriers between students and professors need to be overcome; students must feel free to approach faculty on any grounds. Advisors need to be reminded of the course challenging option, and need to remind students of it as well. Lewis Sutton added that general education cannot be expected to affect advising quality, however, the program needs to be one that is easily understandable. Brian Railsback added that the course challenging mechanism needs to be streamlined so that students take advantage of it early enough in the semester that they do not miss course material if they end up needing the course. Advisors and professors could cooperate to make this more efficient. Lewis added that there needs to be a way to do waivers to allow students to substitute upper level courses!
There were no further questions and Curtis thanked the participants for a useful and thought provoking hearing.
April 2, 1998
Open Hearing 5
Susan Brown expressed concern about the increase in credit hours, as some programs (including hers) do not have room for any more credit hours. Curtis replied that the committee is aware of the impact of credit hours on programs, but the committee is not worried because the program development is not finished yet. We are more concerned with issues at this point than details. Further, part of doing an in-depth review of general education is for the majors to rethink their programs as well. A strong general education program is part of what is best for the major programs, too. Also, accreditation issues must be considered in this review, but if a credit hour issue does not arise from an accrediting requirement, it is reasonable for it to be reconsidered. We were told in our original charge from the Chancellor to stay near the present 41 credit hours, but that we are not locked into this number. Susan asked whether elective hours would still be available. This is decided by the majors, and is not a part of general education. Now, all programs are supposed to provide 12 hours of electives, but there are several that have asked for exemptions from this requirement.
John Slater commented that the new proposal seems a lot like the present program with a few small shifts. Curtis pointed him to the "what’s new" section of the proposal document. John replied that many of the new aspects seem like "smoke and mirrors" and that they are not clearly elaborated. For example, the perspectives are described as being different because they are "exciting" for faculty to teach and for students. What does this really mean? Curtis replied that the committee is not in agreement with this perception, and it is not something we have heard as feedback. Bruce Henderson asked what would be needed for the program to seem different? John suggested the presence of interdisciplinary courses, or a learning community of 15 hours that was more all-involving for the student. Daryl Hale addressed the LC question. Historically, interdisciplinary courses have been very difficult to engineer, both here and at other schools, and often there is small or at best short-lived interest because they are very labor intensive. LCs offer the option of team planning, if not team teaching, to provide an environment for natural integration of knowledge. John said this was a good idea for upper level students, but how is it possible to make connections for freshman across five diverse core courses? Daryl replied that it is difficult at the freshman level, but at least it provides a foundation for integration to be built on later. John asked for specifics of how LCs would work. Curtis replied that the committee talked a lot about interdisciplinary courses earlier in its work, but the track record for interdisciplinary programs is very poor nationwide, and that these courses often demand three times the work of a single course preparation. They necessitate to some degree dictating how faculty will teach, and require a new set of teaching habits in the classroom. Mandating these kinds of changes is a prescription for failure. LCs can be very flexible and allow lots of choice at all levels. They can make use of individual faculty interests, imaginations and specializations by not dictating what must be done in single classrooms, but providing an opportunity outside of classes for connections to be made by students. The required planning is labor intensive, but is doable with administrative support. John asked how the student groups would be formed. Block registration of freshman makes this much simpler than it sounds at first. Use of the freshman seminar, composition course and one other (perspectives) course makes this feasible for freshman classes. Jim McLaughlin noted that LCs can cause logistical difficulties for some populations such as part time students. Curtis replied that there are problems with LCs as with all types of innovations, but LCs have more flexibility, and it would be impossible and dangerous to make any such innovation mandatory right away. Dr. Caruso noted that Academic Affairs is experimenting with 6-8 LCs with about 20 students each, which is a start. Anita Rose added that the summer Academic Success Program also used a strategy based on LCs last summer with success. John Habel reminded us that the Honors College is also an example of a LC strategy.
Mary Jean Herzog noted that the bottom line in counting courses is FTE credits. Has the committee considered doing LCs without courses, but with faculty cooperation between instructors? This would remove the class/course/credit concerns. John Slater expanded this concept to suggest taking five volunteer faculty and the first 20 students to register in the classes and make them a LC. Curtis commented that whatever the program is, it should be capable of evolution and change to accommodate whatever structure seems to offer the best chance of success. So, it is possible that participating faculty could modify the programs to develop these kinds of suggestions. There are numerous difficulties to consider, such as what are the requirements of a LC? How do we accommodate transfer students? We simply can’t do too much too fast or failure will be guaranteed.
Jim McLaughlin suggested a simple way to create an interdisciplinary environment. Designate a set of common lectures, texts, or other experiences that professors address in the context of their classes. Introducing these common themes into a variety of classes provides connections for students to see. Curtis suggested that in a general education environment where faculty have more freedom, and fewer constraints on course content with skills and course criteria, that faculty will make interdisciplinary experiences happen rather than having these things mandated. Bruce Henderson reminded us that in the context of a comprehensive university, faculty are discipline oriented, and students are involved in tight programs that are also discipline oriented. We must build a program that provides flexibility within our institutional context. John Habel noted that this would be enhanced by creating appropriate inducements and rewards. Jim McLaughlin noted that these enhancements of courses couldn’t be expected on top of other duties. Curtis added that the administrative part of the program that the committee is presently developing is looking at ways to provide incentives for participation and development within general education. Also, new ideas like freshman seminar and LCs initially seemed inevitable for a new program, but as the committee examined them and began to develop the program, we got more warnings that these things can be difficult; basically, faculty do not want to work extensively outside of their disciplinary roles. They are willing to try new ideas for a semester or two, and then want to go back to their discipline.
Carla Cosio asked if the FS would take over the role of the USI 130 courses. Curtis responded that it would, but FS involves a lot more than USI 130 material. There are difficulties with initiating a FS program, for example, consider generating 60 sections of FS each fall semester. Daryl noted that this concept is in conflict with the modern academy with its tenure policies requiring work in the discipline. This system opposed interdisciplinary ideas. The key to interdisciplinary thinking must be to introduce it to students early, i.e. in FS. Many faculty feel they do not have the training to teach this type of course. John Slater suggested a model like a College of General Education, with a faculty who don’t have ties to disciplines. This would require rebuilding the faculty, perhaps considering two tracks. Jim McLaughlin noted he is unclear on what the FS is. It sounds like another course preparation, and the energy for this would be difficult to sustain. George DeSain asked if the freshman seminar concept might not fit better as a start in the major. Jim McLaughlin commented that teaching a "great book" type selection might mean teaching something that he was not particularly interested in. This is just the difficulty in trying to make a uniform selection for such a course. John Habel’s group has been working on developing a syllabus for FS that will be discussed before the end of the semester. There must be some general agreement among the faculty about what will be done in this course. Bruce Henderson reminded us that David Brown from Wake Forest University told us about their freshman seminar that is very popular with instructors, so it is possible to make such a course attractive to faculty. John Habel noted that in such development, balancing freedom and constraints is a tough balancing act, considering process, use of writing, how to develop suitable exams and assessment tools. The more constraints placed on the course, the more difficulty there will be in attracting faculty. It is important to maintain the freedom for faculty individual interests. This is part of the secret of Wake Forest’s success. Carla Cosio suggested that since the FS will incorporate elements of USI 130 and go further, it will form an anchor for the freshman learning communities. John Slater offered that the FS could be like a lab for the LC, an opportunity for discussion and informal interaction. This is an option, but not a requirement. Debbie Singleton asked if we had talked to students about this idea, which we have as an element of the open hearings.
Susan Brown commented that the upper level writing component should be in the junior year rather than the senior year. In the senior year, there is writing expected of students that the UL writing course should have already addressed. This is the intent of the committee, though other majors may feel differently and should have options. The composition group is working on this as part of their task. Susan noted further that freshman composition does not teach APA writing style and 300 level courses are needed to enforce writing styles needed in the majors. Curtis replied that the upper level writing is intended to be tied to the major for just this reason. Students are at a different developmental level as juniors, and are better able to understand how writing is important in their majors. They might understand better why writing is taught in their discipline at this level. Jim McLaughlin noted that students would not be required to take this course in their discipline, but that it could be an option. Curtis stated further that a serious component of writing in this program is a serious writing across the curriculum component, to connect the freshman and junior year writing courses. Students will be required to do writing and to take writing seriously in various courses in the perspectives. Susan Brown noted that presently there are different levels of commitment by faculty to writing. Debbie Singleton noted that in her 400 level courses, she sees a very wide range of ability in writing among students. Susan makes use of the composition condition grade in her courses, but often feels she is the only one who uses this grade.
Mae Miller asked how the committee envisioned the writing course, and how writing would be incorporated into the FS. John Habel replied that there would be serious reading and writing about the reading in the FS. Mae asked how large the classes would be, as a small FS would be needed to do effective writing instruction. Jim McLaughlin noted that this question raises a serious logistic question; if FS are limited to 20 students, we will need a large number of sections! Curtis noted that we’d need enough to really scare those who think about it. Jim asked if we would have people whose only responsibility was to teach FS? No, the FS would be taught by regular faculty. That would mean that about 1/5 of the faculty would be teaching FS each fall. This is a challenge for the institution.
John Slater asked if the new program would be in place in 1999. It was supposed to be, but given how the review is going, this is unrealistic. We would need a planning and implementation year, and we are behind our original timeline of having a finished program by the end of this year. Bruce Henderson asked why we should rush this process; we only do general education review once every 15 years, why not take the time to do a thorough job?
Jim McLaughlin noted that the perspectives categories are very much the same as the present program. Would we retain the policy that, for example, not all History courses would be taught by the History department? Curtis responded that the thing we want most in the new program is coherence, so we need to watch the perspectives categories for courses that do not belong in them. We need to avoid the level of diversity that we have now, which makes the program too disconnected, but we do not want to be rigid. We need to define the perspectives area, and tried to do this with more traditional category labels. We need to develop significant accountability by developing an administrative and assessment structure that leads the program effectively. Jim McLaughlin stated that we need some mechanism for historians to have some say about what constitutes a history course. Bruce said that we want to avoid the "policing" aspects of the old focus groups, but we do need oversight. Curtis added that students have said they want more choice of courses. Now, there are single courses in perspectives areas that tend to be surveys; both students and faculty hate these courses. McLaughlin added that upper level perspectives courses would be nice. Curtis restated the perspectives philosophy that students leave courses more excited about learning than when they started. McLaughlin said this philosophy is somewhat in conflict with the textbook rental system. Curtis noted that there are a number of problems, such as computer based texts, that are making the textbook rental system problematic. Bruce added that the perspectives need a variety of courses, and that the variety must come from the departmental level, not the individual faculty level. Courses must be consistent, but the kind of variety that students want must be available.
John Slater asked the general question of what the committee hopes to accomplish. Curtis replied that we want to change the status of general education on this campus. John then asked why have general education at all? Curtis replied that we need a place for skills development, to introduce students to college level work, and to provide an opportunity for students to experience a broad body of knowledge through a choice of a broad array of experiences. They need to develop a notion of the true nature of knowledge and how to make connections within this body of knowledge. John asked if a goal was to increase retention. That is not a goal of the review committee. John said our program sounds somewhat like the public schools, with many agendas. This is a public institution.
Susan Brown said that discipline specific LCs and use of writing is exciting, but the program needs faculty support and some programs need more faculty positions to be able to participate. George DeSain added that our goal is to have a more vertical program, as opposed to the flat, foundation that the whole program is now. John Slater likes the idea of special courses taught by special people, and likes the idea of doing teaching outside of the disciplines. Courses should be an introduction to the life of the mind, and we need to make learning fun at the freshman level.
Curtis concluded that the hearings have been interesting and have offered much food for thought for the committee. It has been an effective mechanism and the input will be most helpful.