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  October 14, 2003

Gen Ed Committee Offers Lessons On New Requirements

An overhaul of UConn's general education system, a topic of debate for the past four years, will soon begin to take effect.

The first step is for faculty members currently teaching general education courses to apply this fall for those courses to be recertified, as part of a mandatory review of all existing general education courses. The review will be ongoing. Proposals for new and revised courses will also be welcome.

"The goal is to reflect and think how we can best serve our students," said Anne Hiskes, an associate professor of philosophy who is chair of the General Education Oversight Committee (GEOC). "Take this as a time of opportunity to improve our teaching and learning. Look at your offerings, and think about what you really want to offer. Consider how you might revise your current courses or develop new courses."

Hiskes led a public forum on the new system, held in Konover Auditorium on Wednesday. It was the first in a series of public meetings being held by the GEOC to explain what the new system, approved by the University Senate in May 2002, will mean in practice and how it will be implemented.

Each school or college has its own deadline within the next few months for faculty to submit proposals for revised and new courses, said Hiskes, so the department and school or college can review the proposals in time to meet the GEOC's Feb. 13 deadline. The proposals will then be scrutinized by the Senate's Curricula and Courses Committee, before final sign-off

by the University Senate. Forms for submitting

a proposal are available on the web at the Senate website.

The process may appear cumbersome, said Michael Darre, professor of animal science and co-chair of the Curricula and Courses Committee, but "the bottom line is we're not trying to burden the faculty, we're trying to benefit the students."

The new system, which seeks to define the educational elements the University must offer students to prepare them to meet the challenges of the 21st century, identifies four content areas - arts and humanities; social sciences; science and technology; and diversity and multiculturalism. It also highlights five key competencies: writing, quantitative skills; information literacy (how to use library services and databases); computer technology; and proficiency in a second language.

The new system has a number of advantages compared to the current system, committee members explained. George Gibson, an associate professor of physics and chair of the GEOC sub-committee on science and technology, said the new system is independent of a student's major or college, so whatever general education courses he or she takes will count in any major. The number of students who change majors "is huge," he said, and the number who change majors from one school or college to another is also significant. Under the current system, many students who switch majors have to take additional courses to fulfill the requirements of the new major.

The system also distributes responsibility for developing basic competencies across University departments. Now, delivery of W courses - those that develop students' writing skills - falls primarily on departments in the humanities and fine arts. Now, each major field has to decide what specific skills majors should have when they graduate, and develop a plan to embed them in the curriculum.

Some faculty expressed concern about their department's ability to offer W courses, especially because the new system calls for a student-teacher ratio of 19:1, down from 30:1 currently. Committee members suggested that, if need be, faculty should seek additional resources when they file the course proposal form.

"Gulley Hall seems to be very serious about providing the resources to make this happen," said David Stern, professor of dramatic arts and chair of the GEOC sub-committee on the arts and the humanities.

He said much competency instruction is expected to take place in new learning centers. He added that the administration has approved $450,000 for these centers, as well as $992,500 to support faculty and teaching assistants offering courses that are in high demand, many of which are general education courses.

Stern said the new system eliminates some of the previous "absolute" requirements, such as a requirement that all students take a class in fine arts, literature, history, and philosophical/ethical analysis. "None of those four areas of content is specifically required in the new general education system," he said.

"Students will have much more flexibility now," he added, "so as advisers, if we feel strongly that a student needs history, or literature, we have to advise them to take it."

Stern said one of the biggest changes in the new system is that diversity and multiculturalism are very clearly defined.

Nancy Shoemaker, an associate professor of history, inquired about the criteria for deciding when something falls under the rubric of diversity. "Is anything that's international 'international'? " she asked. "Does the history of England count under diversity and multiculturalism?"

Stern advised her to check with the chair of the diversity and multiculturalism committee before submitting a proposal for that course.

Stern noted that a practice known as "double-dipping" - where students use a single course to satisfy more than one general education requirement - has largely been eliminated. Students will be able to cross-list some courses that satisfy both the diversity and multiculturalism requirement and a content area, but they can do this only once. They will have to take at least seven courses, two in each content area, with a maximum of one "double-dip."

Faculty are encouraged to consult with chairs of the GEOC subcommittees before preparing course proposals if they have specific questions. See the GEOC website for contact information.

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