@deancplong: Matt, I hear you just finished moderating a deliberative activity on GenEd at Penn State in your Rhetoric and Civic Life course. One issue you identified as important was building flexibility into the curriculum while retaining its relevance. The GenEd Task Force has been thinking a lot about this and we’d benefit from a student’s perspective. What issues emerged from the deliberation?
@Filet_Mignogna: A lot of students I spoke with had already figured out what specific career path they wanted to follow, like that of an engineer. Those people felt like the broad categorization of GenEds were wasting their time. For example, one person had to take an anthropology class that he did poorly in and “learned nothing from.” There were also people like me, who don’t yet know what they want to do and understand the inherent value in general education. We all agreed that GenEds are very important, but those who had already figured out their track wanted to choose from them more narrowly.
@deancplong: Ouch, Anthropology is in my College, so that one hurt – still, though, it is a great department with a lot to teach. But I digress…
One of the reasons we want to add a themes component to the GenEd curriculum is so students can feel more ownership of their GenEd experience. We still want them to stretch outside of their intended “track,” as you mention, but we want them to focus on something they find interesting or valuable. Do you think students would take a more active role in GenEd if they could choose from a wide variety of themes?
@Filet_Mignogna: I think themes would be more engaging overall, yes. If students do have a subject they know they are deeply interested in, then themes could expose them to that subject in more depth, and from perspectives they would not have considered before. It can also serve to satisfy many of their GenEds which they might otherwise not be excited about.
But in our deliberation activity students also expressed an important concern about these themes: what do the students who don’t know what drives them (like myself) do with these themes? Would these students be locked into a theme after selecting it? What would the GenEds that don’t fall under a theme look like? It’s also possible that these same students could enroll in whichever theme they think will be the easiest because they don’t possess the academic drive to take these themes seriously.
@deancplong: These are the important questions, Matt, and we have been thinking a lot about them on the Task Force. We have not settled on an exact model yet, but we are considering a model that would have a portion of GenEd dedicated to “Themes and Explorations.” Perhaps we would require a minimum percentage of that portion to be in a theme, and a minimum percentage in explorations. But there would be flexibility between themes and explorations and students shifting themes could then count the credits they originally thought would be for a theme toward explorations.
For example, if we say (for the sake of discussion as nothing definite has been decided): at least 30% of the GenEd curriculum for Themes and Explorations must be in Themes and at least 30% must be in Explorations, that would leave a lot of options for students. Some would opt for a small Theme (just 30%), and then they would have a lot of Exploration (70%); or they could split it 40/60 or even 50/50, or they could go for a big theme, say 70% of that portion of the curriculum, if they were fired up about the issue and wanted to pursue it in great depth.
I wonder how students would take advantage of that flexibility. Would they craft a big theme, or go for a lot of exploration? Let’s open this up for further discussion with a wider audience and continue this conversation in the comments below.