The General Education Committee held a town hall on Friday, December 8, to discuss the President’s idea of theming General Education. He has written in his blog that “while individual Gen Ed courses have many elements that relate to a student’s major area of concentration, students often do not see the connections, context or relatedness….” The town hall was set up to allow faculty and staff to explore the ways in which we might connect Gen Ed classes to help students understand the “connections, context or relatedness” of those classes to each other and to their majors.
I agree with the President that students often do not see the connections among classes. I’m also pretty confident that having the faculty create a set of themed Gen Ed classes that are somehow related to each other is not going to help students make the connections that we want them to make. Why do I say that? Because we already create “themes” all over the place in our curricula and students often fail to see those connections. For example, at Plymouth State University, students must take a set of classes that help them to develop their creativity. In other words, we have “themed” a group of classes so that they focus on creative thinking. And yet, students still see those classes as requirements to get out of the way. We faculty are really good at seeing the connections between sets of courses. We’re not as good at getting students to see those connections.
So I think students will only see the connections between themed Gen Ed courses if we do something more than just telling them that the courses are connected. I think the first, easiest thing we can do is change the way we advise about Gen Ed.
If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I think Gen Ed is the key to the development of successful cluster curriculum. And yet, one of the things I realized at the town hall is that the way that I advise students about Gen Ed is often out of alignment with what I see as its importance. For example, when a Communication and Media Studies (CMS) major comes to me for advising, I talk to them about their interests and goals and help them to identify the CMS electives that are going to help them reach their goals. Sometimes based on these conversations, I’ll make some recommendations about which Gen Ed courses the student might be interested in. Other times, however, I don’t even think about Gen Ed courses that might help the student meet their goals. I might simply say, “You still need a Creative Thought course so pick something you’re interested in.”
I plan to change my own practice regarding Gen Ed courses and how I talk about them to students. In order to be effective, I will need to learn more about the content of Gen Ed courses offered by other disciplines. But I think this simple change in advising could go a long way toward helping students begin to make connections between their Gen Ed courses and their majors.
At the town hall, we came up with a lot of ideas about other ways we can help students make connections between the various components of their PSU education. I look forward to working to put some of them into practice across the University as the new Gen Ed Coordinator. I’m honored and excited to take on this new role since, as I said, I see Gen Ed as the key to our success as a clustered University.