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Events planned to promote gen ed awareness

By Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu - August 29, 2005

To promote awareness of the University’s new general education requirements, which went into effect at the end of last semester, University President Philip E. Austin and Provost Peter J. Nicholls have declared September General Education Month. A series of events are planned for the month that will explore key themes in general education.

“The idea behind General Education Month is to get both faculty and students to think about the value of gen ed in more overt and thoughtful ways,” says Hedley Freake, a professor of nutritional sciences and chair of the General Education Oversight Committee (GEOC).

He says he hopes that events during September and throughout the year will focus attention on both the general education program at large and specific gen ed courses.

The events include faculty workshops on information literacy (Sept. 6 and 7), teaching writing (Aug. 30 and Sept. 27) and quantitative skills (Sept. 30), infusing multiculturalism into the curriculum (Sept. 14), and advising (Sept. 30). On Sept. 28, Don McCabe of Rutgers University, who has conducted research on plagiarism and cheating, will address the topics of plagiarism and academic integrity.

On Sept. 22, Andrea Leskes, vice president of the American Association of Colleges and Universities, an organization that advocates nationally for general and liberal education for undergraduates, will give a public presentation on “General Education: Shifting the Paradigm from Teaching to Learning.”

Two events in a series celebrating the centennial of Einstein’s theory of relativity are also being billed as General Education Month events: on Sept. 7, Ron Mallett, professor of physics, will give a lecture on Einstein’s theories in terms that can readily be understood by the layperson: “Einstein for Beginners”; and on Sept. 9, Patricia Rife of the University of Maryland will trace how Einstein’s ethical and spiritual beliefs informed his scientific achievements in a presentation on “Einstein, Ethics, and the Atomic Bomb.”

On Sept. 19, the University will celebrate Constitution Day for the first time with three events throughout the day highlighting the U.S. Constitution and constitutional law.

Other major speakers include Gail Collins, the first female editor at The New York Times, who will speak about “America’s Women” on Sept. 20; economist Hernando de Soto of the Peruvian think-tank, the Institute for Liberty and Democracy, who will deliver the Greenwich Capital Markets Lecture on Sept. 26; and comedian and education advocate Bill Cosby, who will speak at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts during Family Weekend on Oct. 1.

Films, exhibits, and musical performances scheduled throughout the month highlight the role of the arts in general education, with special emphasis on themes of diversity and multiculturalism.

Student-oriented activities, in addition to the lectures, films, and arts events, will include a scavenger hunt designed by library staff to test freshmen’s information literacy skills.

The new general education system is intended to define the educational elements the University must offer students to prepare them for their future. It identifies four content areas: arts and humanities, social sciences; science and technology; and diversity and multiculturalism; and five key skills or “competencies”: writing, quantitative skills, information literacy, computer technology, and proficiency in a second language.

Freake says the GEOC encourages faculty members to be explicit about how the courses they teach fit in with the general education curriculum.

“We hope they will articulate learning objectives for students as they relate to the general education curriculum, by including that kind of information in the syllabus and discussing it in class, so that students become aware of the purpose of gen ed.

“Students often see these courses as requirements, boxes to be checked off,” he adds, “but that’s partly because no one explained what they should expect to get out of a particular course. They need to understand that they will be a better engineer, for example, if they have an understanding of this or that general education topic.”

The GEOC has prepared a flyer about general education that was distributed to all students and parents during orientation this year. It is also available at advising offices.

Students already in the system will continue under the old requirements, unless they change school or college. In that case, they come under the catalog applicable at the time of the switch.

Key differences between the two systems include a new content area for diversity and multiculturalism, and the requirement that competencies be taught within the majors.

With the new requirements now implemented, says Freake, the GEOC will work with the Provost’s office to oversee the new system.

“We need to look at the system and whether it is delivering as advertised and constructed,” he says. “For example, are there enough W courses? We will also think about assessment. We know that courses are being offered, but what are students learning? And what difference does the new diversity and multiculturalism requirement make, for example?”

For a full list of General Education Month events, see http://geoc.uconn.edu/. Events will also be listed in the Advance Calendar each week, and at http://events.uconn.edu/

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