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Results and Feedback from Rethinking General Education at UT: A Roundtable

On Friday, April 8, over 120 faculty (tenure line and non-tenure line), students, administrators, and staff participated in a roundtable event to engage in a big-picture discussion about what General Education is and could be at UT. The participants represented 100% of colleges and more than 80% of departments that serve undergraduates, along with more than 15 offices.

Roundtable participants considered five broad perspectives of General Education.

  1. What should all students know or be able to do upon graduation?
  2. An “effective citizen” model
  3. A set of techniques, perspectives, and generalizable skills, rather than a survey of foundational ideas
  4. An integrative, interdisciplinary focus that provides students a framework for learning within and beyond their major
  5. The relationship between liberal learning and professional skills

The General Education Redesign Taskforce had two major goals for this event.

Goal 1: Engage the campus community in thinking about General Education

Goal 2: Gather information to guide the General Education Redesign Taskforce

Both goals were successfully achieved.


Goal 1:  Engage the campus community in thinking about General Education

Of the ~70 participants who completed the post-event survey,

  • 83% felt more engaged in General Education redesign as a result of participating in the event
  • 52% left with new ideas for enhancing their own courses

Moreover,

  • 79% rated the roundtable experience as excellent (48%) or good (31%)
  • 75% rated the 3+ hour meeting as a good use of their time

Goal 2: Gather information to guide the Taskforce

Several key themes emerged from both the roundtable discussions and the post-event survey:

  • Develop an integrative, interdisciplinary focus for General Education: the clear favorite among all perspectives
    • 87.5% of respondents Strongly or Somewhat Agreed this perspective should guide General Education Redesign
    • However, there are significant concerns about barriers to and institutional support for implementing an integrative, interdisciplinary approach that will need to be addressed.
    • Aspects of the other perspectives were also endorsed by the majority of respondents
      • “The focus going forward should be on an inter-disciplinary model for Gen Ed, but given the strong support for Ways of Knowing (Perspective 3) and Knowledge and Skills (Perspective 1) these should be explicitly built into whatever framework is ultimately developed. This should not be difficult since explicitly seeking to address cross-disciplinary differences in ways of knowing almost certainly should be part of any inter-disciplinary approach to Gen Ed as a matter of course. Making it explicit may be necessary to ensure that it is consistently a part of the Gen Ed classes but it should be easy to build in. It would take a little more work to build in specific expectations about knowledge and skills the students acquire from the Gen Ed classes, but shouldn’t be too difficult.”
  • Integrate Gen Ed with the major as a way to support an interdisciplinary perspective and carry Gen Ed into upper-division courses
    • “General education needs to be integrated into the overall experience and throughout the student’s learning experience vs the current focus on basics or lower level courses.”
    • “I like the idea that students can take a GenEd class and apply it directly to their major (ie, a speech class – useful in most majors).  Having students think about how GenEd classes directly (or indirectly) relate to their major and/or career goal will make GenEd more relevant to students.”
  • Focus on who teaches Gen Ed courses, how to teach Gen Ed courses, and how to ensure the quality of Gen Ed courses over time
    • More support and respect needed for non-tenure line faculty who bear the primary load of Gen Ed teaching
    • More support needed for tenure-line faculty to teach Gen Ed courses
    • Campus-wide workshops and conversations needed about effective General Education teaching and learning practices
      • I think we particularly need to pay attention to improving students’ understanding of what gen ed is, why they take gen ed courses, how a particular course might enhance life-long learning, etc. and perhaps something at the end of the course to reinforce this.  Perhaps all faculty teaching these courses need to attend some workshop about this.
    • Learn from exemplary General Education courses that already exist
      • “Every Department should challenge their faculty to make every gen ed course the equivalent of ‘The History of Rock and Roll.’ This is a course that explores history, civil rights and other topics in a way that students are engaged almost without realizing it!”
    • Develop a process for regular re-certification of Gen Ed courses to make sure courses remain true to the learning goals
      • “… gen ed courses really need to be reviewed every few years to make sure they are being taught in accordance with the guidelines.”

Next Steps

  • Continue to solicit feedback and support from as many members of the campus community as possible.
  • Develop a working draft that articulates the principles of General Education redesign and identifies curricular and administrative needs for implementation. The General Education Redesign Taskforce has a retreat planned for May 18-19.
  • In Fall 2016, a proposal for will be presented to the General Education Committee for consideration.

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