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General Education Revitalization Plan Proposed

In spring 2015 the Office of the Provost put together a task force and charged the group with revitalizing general education. Erin Hardin, director of undergraduate studies and associate head in the Department of Psychology, chairs the group.

“Our goal was to think about what general education is—or could be—at UT and then refresh or redesign the general education curriculum,” Hardin said.

The task force is putting the final touches on its report, which will be submitted to the Office of the Provost later this semester. Here, Hardin summarizes the group’s recommendations:

What’s the problem with general education now?

Students don’t understand its purpose or value. They perceive it as a checklist of requirements to get out of the way. Students think general education requirements are disconnected or irrelevant to their major rather than a foundation on which their major builds.

General education should answer the question “What does it mean to be a well-educated citizen?” It should provide the knowledge, awareness, and skills we want every UT student to have, regardless of their major or career goal.

We also think general education should address the Volunteer experience—what it is that makes a degree from UT unique and special.

What are the goals in revamping general education?

Our overarching goals are to enhance the quality of a degree from UT, increase excitement about what it means to be a Volunteer, and design a general education program that supports Vol Vision 2020.

We want to do a better job of connecting general education to students’ majors. We want general education to provide a foundation for students to be more successful and creative in their majors.

At the same time, we must ensure that our general education curriculum meets the requirements of our accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). The general education curriculum also must comply with state-mandated articulation agreements, so students who complete their general education courses at other state higher education institutions are assured their credits will transfer here—and vice versa.

And we want to make improvements without increasing the size of general education or making it more cumbersome for students or faculty. We think this is doable because, in many cases, our proposed changes simply require some innovative approaches to structuring courses and presenting material.

What changes are you recommending?

At present, general education requirements are broken into two main categories: Building Basic Skills (written communications, oral communications, and quantitative reasoning) and Developing Broadened Perspectives (arts and humanities, cultures and civilizations, natural sciences, and social sciences).

Our proposal uses four categories to describe general education requirements: Ways of Communicating, Ways of Knowing, Global Citizenship, and Engaged Inquiries (applying knowledge, awareness, and skills).

We’re not suggesting a wholesale rewrite of general education but a few specific changes and some tweaking of other requirements:

  • For Ways of Communicating, students would still take three courses in written communications but would take two courses in oral communications instead of one. The second course—which would focus on communications skills specific to their discipline—could be fulfilled by a course in their major or another general education course with an applied communications component.
  • Students would still take courses in the arts and humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, and quantitative reasoning disciplines (math, logic, and computation) as part of Ways of Knowing.
  • Our current cultures and civilizations requirement would be replaced with Global Citizenship. Two courses would still be required, but one would have a US focus and the other an international focus.
  • We are also proposing that students take several Engaged Inquiries courses that allow them to deepen and use what they’re learning—through, for example, service-learning, interdisciplinary work, hands-on or applied learning, or performances. These could overlay the Ways of Communicating, Ways of Knowing, and Global Citizenship requirements.

What about transfer students?

Because of Tennessee Promise, which offers last-dollar scholarships for in-state students to attend community colleges, our campus may be looking at a growing population of transfer students in coming years. Transfer students often come to UT with some of their general education requirements already completed, which means our efforts to redesign and reinvigorate general education will have a limited effect on them.

To ensure that transfer students also benefit from the Volunteer experience, we propose that all students, including transfer students, have a new degree requirement outside of general education. All students would be required to complete a Contemporary Issues and Solutions course or project. Although we’re still working out the details, we envision that this requirement would align with our Experience Learning initiative and could take a variety of forms: a capstone course in their major; a course that fulfills the Arts and Sciences global challenges requirement; or an internship, experiential, or service-learning course.

How has campus feedback played a role developing these suggestions?

In April 2016, our task force invited the campus community to attend roundtable discussions. Faculty, staff, and students from every academic unit participated. They made it clear that our campus community values the traditional liberal arts perspective that our general education program delivers, and they gave us great input for developing our plan.

We’re enthused about how this new general education curriculum will energize our campus.

As faculty members, we teach because we love learning and discovery—and we think this new vision of general education will increase our opportunities to share that love of learning and discovery with our students.

What are the next steps?

Once the report is completed and submitted, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs R. J. Hinde will present the new general education framework to the Undergraduate Council for its approval, which should happen sometime this spring.

Also this spring, a new task force will be formed to flesh out and help implement the changes.

Departments must review courses and revise them as necessary, or even develop new courses. Colleges and programs must look at every major and tweak requirements accordingly. Catalogs must be revised.

Our goal is to implement the new general education curriculum in fall 2020.

Where can I get more info?

You can find more information about the task force’s work, as well as its complete membership, on the General Education website.