Why do we have to change GenEd in the first place?
Our current GenEd program was put in place in the 1980s. It was nationally-recognized at the time, but small changes in the program over the years have eroded its cohesion and coherence. Additionally, General Education programs across the country have been moving from distribution models (“checking off the box”) to more integrative approaches; in order for us to train our students to succeed in today’s world, we needed to rethink how we provide a liberal education.
Also, assessment of GenEd was added after program implementation and thus much of our current program is not assessed or “assessable”. Assessment really works best if it’s integrated from the beginning. This is one key reason for rethinking the program from the ground up.
When will the new program start?
We would like to begin the new program for the freshman class in Fall 2019. But we won’t start a new program until we have everything in place.
What does the new program look like?
We’re calling the proposed program The Potsdam Pathways. You can get an overview of it here.
Why are we reducing credit hour requirements in the Sciences, the Arts, Modern Languages, and Physical Education?
There is considerable pressure both internally (with credits being added to majors) and externally (with the reduction in GenEd requirements across SUNY schools) to keep General Education credits to 30 hours. As you probably well know, students consistently say they want more choice in the classes they can take. There was general agreement amongst faculty in the Gen Ed Task Force (GETF) to work towards reducing “siloed” requirements and there was unified support in the GETF for adding new “signature” requirements—a first-year seminar and a team-taught transdisciplinary course—to the program.
In order to make room in the program (with the limited number of credits), to provide students opportunities for choice, and to also free up faculty to teach these new signature courses, we had to build a program with fewer credits in important areas. The reduction of science, the arts, philosophy and modern language, as examples, are necessary to make the program work. By reducing siloed requirements, faculty in these departments, then, will be able to contribute in very significant ways to the first year “Potsdam Seminar” and the upper division team taught transdisciplinary course. Both of these requirements could be offered in a number of different disciplines. For example, the “Potsdam Seminar” could be a Biology course focusing on how species adapt to climate change or an Art course that has students think critically about aesthetics while creating art themselves. Similarly, the upper-division transdisciplinary requirement will combine different fields such as Sociology and Literature or Philosophy and Biology.
Are writing and speaking courses going to be taught by people without training to teach in these areas?
Certainly not. While most faculty who currently teach writing and speaking courses are trained in English and Communications, we have faculty teaching these courses who have advanced degrees in a range of disciplines. We expect that will continue to be the case with a new GenEd program. What the new program will do differently, though, is provide more training to faculty to teach in these areas, more systematically integrate writing and speaking across the other GenEd requirements, more intentionally scaffold writing and speaking throughout students’ college careers, and offer more support for students who may need a bit of extra help in developing these skills. Key to all this, of course, is a commitment by the administration to support these efforts and provide the necessary resources.
I can see how some of my courses will fit into the new program but others just don’t seem to be good fits. Does that mean I would not offer these classes?
Some courses that currently carry GenEd, might not carry a designator required in the new core. We believe that it could potentially be good for the college to have some lower division courses that don’t “check off boxes” for students—that is to say, courses offered that don’t fulfill a core requirement or a major requirement. There might, then, be courses that students would choose as electives—both at the lower and upper levels.
Also, with some modification, your course might be a good fit for a WAYS 101 or even a WAYS 301 course. Or, your course might be a better fit for one of the Ways of Thinking areas than you realize. This will become clearer once we define the criteria and outcomes for these courses, which working groups are drafting over the Fall 2017 semester.
Will there be ongoing professional development/workshops that will get faculty engaged (and then keep them engaged) and teach them how to teach these specific designators?
Yes. Professional development opportunities and workshops were once offered regularly for General Education. They fell by the wayside, in large part because of costs and workload issues. We fully recognize the need to reintroduce and support these opportunities, both as we prepare to implement the program, and afterwards. This is another area where administrative support will be essential, and these initiatives would be built into a later iteration of the program.
Who is involved in GenEd revisions and how were they chosen?
Every academic department and many non-academic units on campus were invited to send a representative to the General Education Task Force, which was formed in Spring 2016. All but two academic departments sent a representative to the 30-person task force. All Task Force members were asked if they would like to continue this work and serve on a GenEd Steering Committee. Five were chosen and appointed by the Provost in Fall 2016. In Fall of 2017, over 60 faculty members (many task force members but also faculty chosen to be representative of academic departments and schools) were appointed by the Provost to develop criteria and student learning outcomes for the proposed designators. All of these efforts have been coordinated and supported by Director of General Education Alan Hersker and Assistant Dean of Arts & Sciences Krista Medo.