One thing you often hear from college students is getting their general education classes out of the way. Though students may not necessarily be excited to take the general education classes, the General Education Council has a plan in store to change the way students think about them.
The General Education Council, has been working since last year to make significant changes to the existing program and to move toward more dramatic changes in the future.
The current general education plan has been active since the early1990s, but over the years a number of weaknesses have been identified that are hindering this plan of education. Director of General Education Dr. Bryan Lamkin said there are three main pressures they plan to address with the new plan.
The first pressure is to lower the number of total general education units needed. APU has a lot of units required and it can end up being too much to handle for some students.
“Those majors with high-unit totals also have to fulfill a significant number of general education requirements, so that can be a stretch,” Lamkin said.
The General Education Council has already acted upon this by eliminating all of the general education electives, including the upper division electives. The total program units for the GE courses were reduced from 67 to 61. These change takes effect Fall 2013.
Integrative Core courses such as POLI 160, PSYC 225, SOCW 310/311, CHEM 105 were removed from the general education requirements. The General Education Council also eliminated courses that count for both Upper-Division Writing and Integrative Core such as ART 356 and PHIL 340. ART 356 and PHIL 340 now count solely as Upper Division Writing Intensive courses.
However, these changes do not apply to any student graduating prior to Fall 2013. Students graduating before the changes become effective in Fall 2013 must still fulfill the current general education requirements.
The next pressure is that general education courses should not be thought of as “independent of” the other courses a student takes at APU. General education courses should prepare students for, support and enrich all other courses.
“[For example], if you’re in a history senior seminar course, you must incorporate a cross-disciplinary perspective, such as a psychology, economics or art perspective,” Lamkin said. “In Senior Seminar you’re supposed to be able to work with that different perspective; you’re supposed to have learned enough over your four years at APU by taking these various kinds of general education courses.”
He went on to say the current writing curriculum needed to be fixed; that it is not coordinated in that the three general education writing courses (Freshman Writing Seminar, Upper-Division Writing Intensive and Senior Seminar) are not well connected right now.
Lamkin expressed that one of the largest issues with general education is diversity. He said that the general education department would be working to address this.
“You hear an awful lot about God-honoring diversity here at APU and we are committed to that, but you as a student can pick and choose in this cafeteria-style approach and you can, for all four years, opt out of diversity if you select particular classes,” Lamkin said. “In the general education curriculum, students can avoid diversity related courses should they choose to do so. That’s been a problem.”
The cafeteria style that Lamkin refers to is currently the format of how students choose their classes. Like at a cafeteria, they pick and choose what they want, and in most cases only select classes that pertain to their major or their interests.
The General Education Council sees these pressures and are already taking action. Not only has it already made moves to cut down the number of general education units required, but has also been working with department chairs to identify courses that they do not see as important aspects of a general education curriculum.
The big plan for general education is to scrap the cafeteria model and to adopt a more “outcomes-based” model.
“We have particular outcomes we’d like to see for a given APU graduate and those outcomes can be met in a variety of ways from different kinds of courses,” Lamkin said.
There are four essential learning outcomes (created by the American Association of Colleges and Universities) that might replace the current GE outcomes. These are: knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world, intellectual and practical skills, personal and social responsibility and integrative and applied learning. The council is currently considering these essential learning outcomes, along with a faith-related outcome.
“So far, we’ve shared these things with the faculty senate and there seems to be no major resistance,” Lamkin said. “We’d really like to move towards this outcomes-based type of GE program.”
Lamkin and the General Education Council have set goals that they wish to achieve and are currently working on. According to Lamkin, they are doing a better job than ever before with handling these issues and goals.
“We are working and doing a much better job at assessing the general education program much more carefully and systematically than we ever have before,” Lamkin said. “If something’s working in GE courses, great. If not, we can give feedback. We can help to improve that process.”
There are several things the council is currently working on. One thing they are working toward is developing a better writing program that provides writing classes that are incorporated with general education courses and courses for a student’s particular major.
The council has long-term goals that they plan to accomplish by the time this outcomes-based plan can come into effect. One completely new idea would be to have “first-year seminars.”
“We would love to see first-year seminars so that people as freshmen here begin to have this experience of what it means to be a student at a Christian university in a way that’s consistent,” Lamkin said. “In a way that makes them think deeply and rigorously about a God-centered, God-first university education.”
Another action Lamkin and the council want to see is students sharing what they have learned with each other through common intellectual experiences.
“It’s not enough to eliminate the electives and start to pare down the course offerings within the core areas,” Lamkin said. “That doesn’t mean that you’ll have any kind of common conversations. We’ve got to find ways to increase that common conversation.”
Lastly, he revisited diversity saying that students should no longer be allowed to run away from the topic of diversity. It is important that they face it.
“We’ve got to make sure that students can’t really opt out of diversity; that they see it done in a way that really is excellent and that they understand that God’s kingdom is made up of a diverse group of individuals,” Lamkin said.
The outcomes-based plan will not be implemented for another few years. In the meantime, the General Education Council is constantly finding ways to improve the system of general education and how that could branch out to all aspects of the undergraduate experience at APU.
Students are open to the idea of changing general education at APU. Senior sociology major Vicki Lewis agrees with the idea that general education classes should not be swept under the rug, but rather taken seriously.
“I think that the classes may seem more purposeful as a result [of these changes],” Lewis said. “This may give freshmen and sophomores more of a well-rounded experience.”
Sophomore psychology major Lydia Mandujano also feels that classes will become more beneficial toward students if these changes are accepted. She feels that through these changes, students could learn some valuable pieces of knowledge and share that in conversations with others.
“In a way, the student would have more opportunities to learn how to engage in conversations and be capable of engaging what they are passionate about in [these conversations],” Mandujano said.
Regardless of the fact that the plans will take quite some time to come into effect, these plans look very promising for APU.