Penn State asking for feedback as it drastically revamps its general education …

Penn State officials who have been examining the school’s general education offerings for more than a year have come to a conclusion: topics aren’t being placed into larger contexts, and some classes are simply too easy.

Penn State’s general education requirements across all its campuses – which haven’t been significantly revamped in at least 15 years – have caused officials to realize that there’s been a proliferation of high grades and a heavy usage of non-tenure line faculty members.

And now, Penn State’s General Education Planning and Oversight Task Force is asking for widespread feedback from faculty and students in the Penn State community on a draft copy of a forensic report outlining general findings and proposed solutions to the reorganization of general education programs. In addition to the online dialogue, focus groups and town hall-style meetings are being scheduled for additional discussion.

Mary Beth Williams, chair of the task force and professor of chemistry, said to her knowledge, this is the first time a forensic report was posted online for comment from faculty before it was taken to the floor in the University Faculty Senate.

“This is intentional,” Williams said, “because with a discussion about curriculum and general education curriculum, which involves faculty and staff across 20 campuses, it is absolutely critical everyone feels engaged.”

According to Williams, task force members hope to create a general education program in which students aren’t just taking classes to check off a box on a list of requirements. Rather, they hope students and faculty can see potential and innovation in general education curricula. The task force hopes to fully implement changes to the programs by fall 2016.

One of the major proposed changes to the general education curriculum is making a portion of the credits taught under a single “theme,” whereas others are “exploration credits.” The themes will serve as a cluster of courses that work with each other to foster critical skills like writing and speaking. This differs from a typical general education program in which students are taking courses in different disciplines along with additional credits chosen by them.

“That’s what it is now,” Williams said. “It’s not curriculum at all. It’s a menu, and we are working on the concept of curriculum.”

This theme-based approach is consistent with what colleges across the nation are implementing and considering in order to revise already-in-place general education requirements. According to Inside Higher Ed, many administrators at the annual American Association of Colleges and Universities conference in January noted that theme-based general education was on their radar.

At Penn State, Williams said the task force won’t be setting a finite number of themes. Instead, themes will come from the faculty members who will teach them.

The second major change the task force is considering is reducing the total number of credits required by the general education program. As it is now, general education accounts for about a third of the total credits students are taking at Penn State.

“If our courses are integrative and interdisciplinary then we may need fewer total credits,” Williams said, adding that the task force hasn’t yet put its finger on what the number of credit requirements should be.

In addition, faculty are also proposing that general education courses span beyond 100-level classes, so that seniors aren’t taking classes that are well below their knowledge development.

Now that the forensic report has been drafted, Williams said task force members will put a full report together and legislation will need to be passed by the Faculty Senate. Because it’s a curriculum change, the Board of Trustees won’t be involved in its approval. 

Speak Your Mind