Two recent articles from Inside Education – very worthwhile reading – focus on general education and the efforts underway by several institutions to improve the curriculum to make it meaningful and rigorous. Too often students don’t understand the purpose of general education requirements and what they’re supposed to be learning. In response, Goucher College, Ripon College, and the College of William & Mary revamped their general education programs to be “more than laundry-style lists of distribution requirements.” The results of these efforts are the Goucher Commons, Ripon’s Catalyst curriculum, and William & Mary’s College Curriculum. All three employ seminars that encourage collaboration and critical thinking and focus on oral communication, information literacy, and writing, among other content areas. The new curricula have had positive effects on the campuses, including “a more integrated, cohesive approach to liberal arts education” and more inter-department cooperation. It has also inspired faculty to be more collaborative and adventurous in terms of developing new courses.
Harvard University and Duke University also were concerned that their GE programs were “falling short” and began reform efforts to increase student buy-in and also maintain quality and importance. Faculty at Harvard were divided about the purpose of GE – should it impart liberal arts, teach how to have a more meaningful life, or provide choices to students for self-improvement and reflection? Faculty members proposed a compromise that incorporates all these perspectives plus more typical course distribution requirements as well.
Duke University also re-examined its 20-year old general education curriculum toward the goal of streamlining requirements, promoting the liberal arts and making a distinct new program. “Experience Duke, Deliberately” stresses student choice, allowing students to select their own educational pathway. The Duke Experience is “a multidisciplinary, team-taught, flipped-format course centered on a shared educational experience in which all first-year students would take a common 10-month course led by five faculty members from different disciplines.” The details of the new program are still being worked out but faculty leaders are optimistic that the new program encourages students to make decisions about their education. One administrator noted that students are “motivated and encouraged to develop their own pathway through the curriculum, taking advantage of the many educational opportunities to demonstrate that they have met the expectations of the curriculum.”