Two innovations on gen-ed

Themes aim to help students make meaningful connections between distribution requirements

Two major state universities are revamping their general education programs to ensure distribution credits aren't throwaway classes, Maxine Joselow reports for Inside Higher Ed.

Since 2008, redesigning general education has become more of a priority for colleges, according to a survey conducted this year by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U).

In the coming years, the State University of New York at Buffalo (SUNY-Buffalo) and the University of Virginia (UVA) are planning major investments in overhauling their core curriculum.

Beginning this fall, students at SUNY-Buffalo will be required to complete courses in four buckets: math and quantitative reasoning, scientific literacy, inquiry and diversity learning, and communication literacy.

Within the next two to three years, UVA will launch a pilot program in which students must take classes in three categories: engagements, literacies, and disciplines. 

Profiles in innovation: Addressing new and forthcoming challenges

"What you're seeing in both of these programs is this new, emerging hybrid model of general education, in which there's an attempt to balance the need for high-level skill development with the need to still provide a breadth of knowledge areas extending beyond majors," says Debra Humphreys, AAC&U's senior vice president for academic planning and public engagement.

At SUNY-Buffalo, students will pick a "thematic pathway," such as health, environment, or innovation and justice. They'll then take three courses within that theme. They'll also complete a "global" version by either taking a class on global reflections or language, or by studying abroad.

Additionally, freshmen and transfer students will take a small seminar, and upperclassmen will complete a capstone in which they write a reflection on their academic career. The capstone aims to ensure general education continues throughout students' time at the university. 

At UVA, the revamp grew out of an informal committee's realization that students on campus were joined more by extracurricular activities than by academics. Designated "College Fellows" will design first-year courses for the specific engagement categories.

"The new faculty College Fellows … will work together to take responsibility for designing and teaching these first-year courses and connecting the curriculum to the broader aims of general education, particularly equipping students for lives of meaningful vocation and engaged citizenship," Ian Buacom, UVA college dean, told Joselow via email.

The two redesigns both aim to develop students with deeper skills and a wider scope of knowledge (Joselow, Inside Higher Ed, 6/10).  

Related: What is the "right" general education for students heading into the working world?

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