A Modest Suggestion for GE Reform

From Majoring in the 21st Century blog…

When, as is usually the case, nobody has actually put forward a coherent critique that exposes what’s wrong with the current system and why it needs to be thrown out and replaced, consider an innovation process that’s different from the usual approach in higher education.

What if we challenge ourselves to start by repackaging and repurposing what we have, thereby really identifying what things about it could be corrected, tweaked, turbo-charged, etc. to make it live up to its promise. Usually, the fact of the matter is we were stoked about it when we invented it and neither world nor students nor we have changed that much; it’s what we’ve let happen to it since that is the problem. Unless we can focus on how one deals with those things, we will almost certainly see the same thing happen to a new plan.

So before embarking on a giant do-over, perhaps…

Tell Them Why I

Develop coherent and persuasive description of why we have a GE program and what it is supposed to achieve.

Tell Them Why II

Build into orientation each year an academic address in which a faculty member is charged with coming up with a creative and compelling explanation of, argument for, the GE program both in principle and in particular. A few years of this will provide us with some internal dialog on what it means and why it is there as well as providing a foundation for all subsequent advising around GE.

Collect data

Write a short bit of code which would count ALL gen-ed fulfilling courses to see how the distribution is. In other words, take as given that we have a set of areas and we have a set of courses that relate to them. Apart from meeting minimal requirements, what does the distribution of “general education” actually look like for a class of graduates? (coding note: need to filter by major so we do not bias results based on distribution of majors).

Use Design to Change Attitudes

Move away from the “check box” mentality by re-configuring Banner and MAPs so they don’t simply indicate that a requirement has been fulfilled, but rather track and document how and how many times each requirement has been fulfilled, providing both student and anyone who looks at the transcript a visualization of her general education. Include the rationales described above in the transcript/MAP.

Thus, instead of this…

They’d see this:

Author: Dan Ryan

I've been an Academic Program Director at MinervaProject.com, a professor at University of Toronto, University of Southern California, and Mills College teaching things like human centered design, computational thinking, modeling for policy sciences, and social theory. My current mission is to figure out how to reorganize higher education and exploit technology so that we can teach twice as many twice as well twice as easily.

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