Executive Summary of GEC

 Report to Faculty Senate 

April 2005

 

Introduction

According to Faculty Senate By-Laws the General Education Committee is charged with systematically reviewing the program, assessing student learning in the program, and recommending curricular or programmatic changes

 

The General Education Committee submits this executive summary along with a full report to Faculty Senate as required.  The report provides information about the results of the course reviews completed over this past year and a summary of findings from other assessment activities collected over the past 10 years.  The report concludes with a list of commitments related to program quality and improvement that were unanimously approved by the General Education Committee on April 4, 2005.

 

Program Assessment and Other Information

Course Reviews. In the current General Education structure, very little commonality of “highest priority” outcomes exists within categories. In other words, expectations for student learning vary with each course in a single category.

·         Since so many choices exist within most categories, and since students generally take only one or two courses, it is unlikely that students have comparable learning experiences within a category. 

·         Only 8 outcomes were mentioned by at least 20% of courses in the program, suggesting that there is a lack of commonality of learning goals across the program.

·         The outcomes for the language courses did not coincide with the outcomes from other disciplines in the Math/Logical Systems category.   

·         Outcomes in the “Responsible Citizenship and Ethical Decision-Making” were rarely identified.

·         Although the lack of commonality may exist because of the number of outcomes and the request to departments to select only 6-8 considered highest priority, too much discrepancy exists within categories and across the program to consider only this explanation for the findings.

·         An ad hoc GEC committee is currently reviewing and revising the outcomes, reducing the number and complexity.

·         Agreement on a common set of learning outcomes that are clearly and consistently articulated to students can enhance pedagogy, student’s learning, and assessment.

 

Student Perceptions. Three sets of indirect assessment data are used here: Senior surveys of 1996 and 2003-2004 and focus groups conducted in 1996.

·         Students can not clearly articulate the purpose of the general education program. Their responses suggest that they do not understand what is meant by or the value of a broad-based liberal education.

·         Student responses suggest that they view the program as a set of unrelated courses to “get out of the way,” and that many of the courses are a repeat of high school.

·         Students want more of the general education courses to be related to their majors or minors.  This is related to the idea expressed in their responses that the purpose of higher education is to get a “good job.”

·         Students felt the quality of instruction in the General Education Program was inferior to that found in courses in their major. The quality of instruction seemed to be an important variable that made the course seem worthwhile or a “waste of time.”

 

Assessment of Student Learning. Direct assessment of student learning includes three content areas (science, social science, and the arts) completed in 1996 and 1997, and recent assessments of global perspective and writing quality. Current assessment activities are focused on critical thinking, scientific reasoning, global perspective, integration of knowledge, writing, and diversity.

·         Student responses tend to be underdeveloped in all areas, especially when students are asked to apply knowledge and skills to “real-life problem-solving.”

·         This coincides with student perceptions in surveys that general education did not help them understand complex “real life” problems.

·         Results from current assessment activities will be analyzed over the summer, 2005.

 

Faculty Perceptions.

·         Faculty comments at the February Faculty Senate Forum support a general campus view that UW-L lacks a clear vision of the role and purpose of General Education.

·         There is no clear consensus on the role of general education vis-à-vis the majors or minors, but many faculty admit to telling students to “get their gen eds out of the way.”  This sends a message that courses in general education are less important than those in the major.

·         The institutional mission statement and strategic plan clearly support a broad liberal education that enables students to develop as critical thinkers, life-long learners, and global citizens.  Since the mission and strategic plan do not clearly distinguish between the roles of general education and the major, it seems appropriate to expect that all aspects of the baccalaureate degree should support these goals.

 

Faculty Turnover and Preparation.

·         Sizeable proportions of those currently teaching in the general education program were hired within the past 10 years and have inherited courses. 

·         There have been no consistent strategies for helping new faculty and staff understand the purpose or structure of the program, or the role of specific courses.

·         Faculty development pertaining to general education needs to be provided to new faculty and staff as well as those who have been teaching in the program for some time. 

 

Employer and accreditation views.

·         Most employers today expect college graduates to have knowledge and skills specific to a particular area of specialization, but also seek those with a strong liberal education.

·         Particular skills employers seek include critical and creative thinking and problem solving, leadership and team skills, perspective taking skills, and cultural competence.

·         Accreditation agencies (e.g., North Central Accreditation) expect all higher education programs to have clearly articulated goals and learning outcomes and effective assessment of student learning.

·         Accreditation criteria and expectations for student learning coincide with the expectations expressed by employers, namely that the institution assesses its curricula in terms of its usefulness in fostering in students a sense of social responsibility and the knowledge and skills necessary to work in a global, diverse, and technological society.

 

Conclusions

·         Evidence strongly suggests that revisions need to be made to improve the quality of the program and quality of student learning in the program.

·         A common vision of the role of general education and of the learning outcomes can help establish a common sense of purpose and guide pedagogical practices and assessment.

·         As the General Education Committee is charged by Faculty Senate to evaluate the program and make recommendations for program improvement, the General Education Committee makes the following commitments to insuring the quality of and appropriate improvements in the program.

 

General Education Committee’s Commitment to Program Quality and Improvement.

We are committed to:

1.       Working cooperatively with Faculty Senate in the process of review and revision of General Education as per the Faculty Senate By-Laws. 

2.       Working cooperatively with Faculty Senate and the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee to create an understanding of the learning outcomes expected of UW-L graduates.  GEC welcomes a joint meeting of members of the three bodies to discuss UW-L’s vision for its graduates as found in the Strategic Plan, and the role that both the General Education Program and the student’s major and minor should play in achieving this vision. 

3.       An outcome-guided General Education Program that reflects a broad-based liberal education.

4.       Asking Faculty Senate to approve a revised set of learning outcomes as a living document that will be routinely evaluated and revised as needed, and used to guide assessment activities.

5.       Changing the name of the program from General Education to University Core Curriculum.

6.       Continued use of the “Human Rights” theme for at least another year as a means of helping students make connections across disciplines. The effectiveness of using this theme will be assessed.

7.       Development of an assessment plan that allows for ongoing and systematic assessment of all aspects of the General Education Program.

8.       Creating a diverse General Education design team that will work during the summer 2005 to identify effective strategies and areas for program improvement and have ready in early fall specific recommendations for program improvement.

9.       Exploring ways to make the program more flexible and connected, while maintaining assurance that learning outcomes will be met.

10.    Developing a manageable course review and revision process that includes timelines and processes for course recertification.

11.    Ongoing professional development for and among General Education faculty and staff.

12.    A General Education design that reflects these commitments