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Wayne State University

Aim Higher

Jul 21 / Thomas Fischer

The importance of the first college class

“The first courses that incoming freshmen take must be ones that motivate them, engage them in real learning, keep them on track when (for a multiplicity of reasons) they go off track, and give them a sense of belonging and purpose. The “secret sauce” for such courses is instruction by exceptional faculty.”

The quote above comes from a thoughtful blog written by Sue Henderson, President of New Jersey City University, and James Muyskens, former president of Queens College. In this piece, they argue that the first courses a student takes should be taught by the top teaching faculty at the university.

As we begin to rethink our general education curriculum, heeding the advice within this blog would serve us well. Inspiring and motivating our students from day 1 is a critical first step on the path of student success.

Link to the blog here: http://www.universitybusiness.com/article/0716-path

 

 

May 6 / Thomas Fischer

A proposal for a new General Education curriculum

At the outset of our committee’s work, we defined a process that we have followed to ensure that the program we would propose would reflect the goals and values of the university community.  This process began with conversations with the campus (students, faculty, staff, alumni) through campus-wide surveys and focus groups. From these we developed a set of Guiding Principles for General Education reform, then developed a comprehensive set of Learning Outcomes to provide operational definitions for the types of skills and knowledge we aim to develop in our program, and most importantly, in our students.  The curriculum we are proposing is the culmination of this process, and reflects the integration of our work to date.

View the proposal

It is important to emphasize that this proposal represents the beginning of what we hope is a campus-wide discussion on the future of General Education.  We feel that the structure outlined in our proposal provides a sound framework for discussions that will help to strengthen the overall proposal and engender the type of campus-wide involvement that will be necessary for the success of our undergraduate curriculum.

Highlights of the proposal:

  • A reduction in the number of required credits to 33.
  • A paired set of “First Year Core” courses designed to generate excitement, build key academic and practical skills, and build a sense of community. This core consists of Signature Courses that are explicitly paired with a Foundational Skills course (Composition or Oral Communication) and a Student Community
  • A proposal to allow specific math requirements to be determined by the majors, and the establishment of Quantitative Experience courses for students whose major does not require a specific math course.
  • A Year 3 Capstone Course that will emphasize some form of community engagement that will build on a student’s previous learning in our program and help to connect them with the broader community.

We urge you to become part of the discussion. To begin to collect feedback, we have scheduled two focus groups/brown bags for next week:

Brown Bag, Wednesday, May 11, 12-2, Student Center Room 285

http://rsvp.wayne.edu/general-education-reform-committee-brown-bag-lunch

Town Hall, Friday, May 13, 10-12, Student Center Room 285

http://rsvp.wayne.edu/general-education-reform-committee-town-hall

 

We will also be scheduling more gatherings in the future, as well as meeting with groups across the campus.  If you would like to reach out to the committee, you can contact us via our email address: EngagingGenEd@wayne.edu.  You can also add public comments to this blog.

 

For the General Education Reform Committee,

Tom Fischer

Committee Co-chair, and Associate Professor of Psychology

Mar 23 / Thomas Fischer

Learning Outcomes for General Education

As the third phase of our process of re-visioning the General Education curriculum, the General Education Reform Committee (GERC) has prepared a set of learning outcomes that will be used to inform the design of a new curriculum. These outcomes were informed by the LEAP Essential Learning Outcomes, a set of outcomes developed by the members of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) and used by many institutions to guide their examination and reform of their general education curricula.  This includes a number of institutions in the state of Michigan; Michigan recently became an official “LEAP State” which will help to facilitate cooperation and collaboration within the state. These draft outcomes were aligned with our Guiding Principles for General Education Reform, which were developed from our surveys, focus groups, town halls, and other communications we received from WSU faculty, staff, and students..

Learning outcomes are clear, objective statements of student achievement goals.  They provide the operational definitions for student learning that make curriculum goals clear to all. They allow programs to state in assessable terms “What we want our graduates to know”, “What we want our graduates to be able to do”, and “What we want our graduates to think or care about”

Academic programs adopt learning outcomes for multiple purposes:

  • They allow programs to provide a clear vision to all of common expectations, values, and goals.
  • They facilitate assessment by stating the criteria from which one can objectively measure achievement to determine whether program goals are accomplished.
  • They make clear to students “what they should know”, communicating the purpose of the curriculum.
  • They also provide empirical frameworks for curriculum design, which can proceed in a more systematic fashion when it begins with a clear understanding of our hopes for student learning.
  • Outcomes also help to identify pedagogical strategies and other elements that will help students meet these goals.

As we move into the curriculum design process, we very much wish to hear from the campus community about our draft outcomes.  Do they provide clear statements of the goals we share for our students?  Do they provide a sound structure for our General Education program?  Please share your views either by commenting on this blog, or send us an email at EngagingGenEd@wayne.edu.

For the General Education Reform Committee,

Tom Fischer

Associate Professor of Psychology and committee co-chair

Jan 11 / Thomas Fischer

Guiding principles for General Education reform

 

 

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At its inception, the General Education Reform Committee (GERC) defined a four-step process to follow towards our goal of reviewing of the University’s current General Education program and formulating recommendations for a future curriculum.  During our first step (our “Starting Line”) we spent a good deal of time listening to and learning from the university community. We conducted on-line surveys for faculty, staff, students, and alumni, and held a series of focus groups that allowed for more wide-ranging conversations.  The information we gathered from these interactions has been summarized and posted on our committee web site.

Based upon what we had learned,  the committee drafted a set of Principles to guide our process moving forward.  This draft was discussed in two Town Halls held at the end of fall semester that were attended by around one hundred faculty and staff. The committee revised the Principles based upon the feedback we received in the Town Halls; this document is now available to download from our web site.

Using these Principles, the committee has now moved to the third phase of our process, which will be to construct the Learning Outcomes upon which the curricular framework will be developed.  As with the development of the Principles, we intend to discuss these outcomes in public forums which we hope to schedule soon.  We hope that you will join us in these important conversations.

We would very much like to hear your views on the Principles, or any aspect of the work of the committee to date. You can leave a public comment on this blog, or you can email the committee directly at: EngagingGenEd@wayne.edu.

For the GERC,

Tom Fischer

Associate Professor of Psychology and Committee co-chair

Dec 1 / Thomas Fischer

What campus community focus groups revealed about our shared goals for General Education

As an integral part of our process, the General Education Reform Committee  (GERC) held a series of focus groups with the campus community on our shared vision for General Education (GenEd). Our conversations were centered around three main areas:

  1. Perceptions of the strengths and weaknesses of our current program
  2. Our shared values for general education
  3. Goals and outcomes for a future general education program

This is to announce the availability of our third and final integrative summary of these sessions, Goals for a future general education program. These summaries are organized around points of consensus that emerged from the focus groups, supplemented by responses on campus-wide surveys we administered in parallel to these sessions. All of the summaries, an overview of our process of data collection, a summary of our focus group data, and detailed summaries of the survey responses are posted here: http://wayne.edu/engaging-gened/data/focusgroups/.

What we heard in our focus groups can be best captured under the following goals for General Education:

  1. A program that is streamlined and coherent
  2. A program that fosters breadth of inquiry
  3. A program that develops effective communication skills
  4. A program that fosters analytic thinking
  5. A program that is integrative

We invite you to read the summary, which you can download directly here.  We would love to hear what you think about these data. You can leave public comments directly on this blog, or you can contact the committee through our email address: EngagingGenEd@wayne.edu.

 

Nov 9 / Thomas Fischer

Perspectives On Our Current General Education Program

As an integral part of our process, the General Education Reform Committee  (GERC) held a series of focus groups with the campus community on our shared vision for General Education (GenEd). Our conversations were centered around three main areas:

  1. Perceptions of the strengths and weaknesses of our current program
  2. Our shared values for general education
  3. Goals and outcomes for a future general education program

This is to announce the availability of our first integrative summary of these sessions, Perspectives On Our Current GenEd Program. These summaries are organized around points of consensus that emerged from the focus groups, supplemented by responses on campus-wide surveys we administered in parallel to these sessions. An overview of our process of data collection, focus group data, and survey responses are posted here: http://wayne.edu/engaging-gened/data/focusgroups/.

In our discussions on the strengths and weaknesses of the current program, several themes emerged:

  1. Change is needed, and it needs to be substantial.
  2. Breadth of exposure and foundational knowledge and skills are viewed as valuable components of our current program.
  3. Structural and implementation issues undermine the desired outcomes for a Gen Ed Program. In particular, there is a clear lack of integration or coherence in the way our current program is structured.
  4. “One size fits all” design does not; our program is viewed as not addressing the range of student needs or interests.

We invite you to read the summary, which you can download directly here.  We would love to hear what you think about these data. You can leave public comments directly on this blog, or you can contact the committee through our email address: EngagingGenEd@wayne.edu.

For the GERC,

Tom Fischer

Associate Professor of Psychology, and committee co-chair

Nov 2 / Thomas Fischer

The Academic Advisor’s perspective on General Education at WSU

Our academic advising staff here at WSU have a unique relationship with our undergraduate students.   Working with students individually, advisors help them to navigate our myriad institutional requirements and regulations, and to set goals towards the successful completion of the degrees.  This one-on-one relationship provides our advisors with a unique perspective on the undergraduate experience.  They listen to students’ concerns and encounter first-hand the obstacles that can impede the progress or success of their advisees. Their unique and valuable perspective became clear to the General Education Reform Committee (GERC) during a focus group we scheduled for advisors–so much so that we felt that it was important to reach out to them for more of their input.  We solicited additional feedback by contacting the leadership of the Academic Advising Council, and provided no directions or charge other than asking that they provide us their views on general education structured in any way that they saw fit.  The AAC created an ad hoc committee led by Ryan Ferrante from Political Science, who was joined by Laura Hetzler from the University Advising Center, Casey Rue from Engineering, and Royanne Smith from English. This committee organized a series of structured interviews with advisors from across the university.  The interview questions focused on strengths and weaknesses of the general education program and sought opinions on the values and expectations that should be part of general education.

The results of their effort is a report that was presented to the GERC on October 23 and is now available to view on our Engaging GenEd web site; it is located on the “Position Statements” section of our web site.  We invite you to read the report and to share your own views on it, either by commenting on this blog or by contacting the GERC.

Beyond the valuable information contained in the report, an important outcome of this exercise was the stimulation of discussion both within the advising community, as well as between WSU advisors and the GERC.  We hope that you will also join the conversation.  It is our sincere hope that these discussions will help us to develop a general education program that enhances the experiences of our students and reflects the values and aspirations of the campus community.

For the General Education Reform Committee,

Tom Fischer,  Associate Professor of Psychology and GERC co-chair

Oct 26 / Thomas Fischer

What do students think about General Education at WSU?

One of the most important stakeholders in the GenEd Reform conversation is our students!  Consequently, over the past 9 months, the GenEd Reform Committee solicited input directly from WSU students in the form of Focus Groups and responses to a survey designed specifically for students.  We reached out to many different student populations at WSU and this is (in part) what we heard:

* Students do not understand why certain GenEd classes are required

* Students are frustrated by costs, scheduling, and GenEd course relevancy issues

* Students desire a simpler, smaller, more flexible GenEd program

On our committee web site, we have posted a student data summary which includes a fuller description of the student perspective, along with complete results of the student public survey; both are posted under the Engaging GenEd DATA tab.

In posting these data, we hope this will provide an additional opportunity to hear from more student voices, while also deepening our understanding of the WSU GenEd experience. Students — please let us know if we heard you correctly!

We would love to know what you think about these results. Please feel free to comment below, or if you prefer to send comments privately to our committee, we can be reached at: engaginggened@wayne.edu

For the General Education Reform Committee,

Lawrence D. Lemke

Associate Professor, Department of Geology

 

Jeffrey Potoff

Professor & Director of Early Engineering Programs

Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science

 

 

 

Oct 6 / Thomas Fischer

Continuing the conversation about General Education reform

Our primary goal as the General Education Reform Committee (GERC), is to ensure that the general education program reflects the values and goals of the entire campus community: faculty, staff, students, employers and alumni. To achieve this, we developed a “roadmap” of our process, which you will find at http://wayne.edu/engaging-gened/.

In the first phase of our process, we have been gathering information from the university members using both on-line surveys and focus groups about their perceptions of the strengths and weaknesses of our current program, the values that should underlie general education, and their opinions on the goals and outcomes for a future general education program.  Over the next few weeks, we will share these data with you.  Our reports will be announced in our blog, and posted on our web site.  Our hope is that these data will facilitate our collective conversation as the committee begins to move to phase 2, which is focused on the articulation of shared values and goals and the formulation of broad learning outcomes and objectives for Wayne State’s general education program.

Our first posting summarizes how we constructed our surveys and organized our focus groups. You can access this report by clicking going to http://wayne.edu/engaging-gened/data/focusgroups/ .  Over the next couple of weeks, we will post the results of the surveys as well as summaries of our focus groups.

It is important to state that this is the beginning of our conversation, not the end.  Our committee has much left to do, and we want your voice to continue to inform our work.  Join the conversation by commenting on our blog posts or by submitting position statements to the committee.  You can also communicate directly to the committee through email: EngagingGenEd@wayne.edu.

For the GERC,

Tom Fischer, committee co-chair

Associate Professor of Psychology

May 5 / Thomas Fischer

Engaging GenEd

Engaging GenEd (verb): To become involved

Engaging GenEd (adjective): Attractive, drawing favorable attention or interest

One of the early discussions in the General Education Reform Committee (GERC) was how we might succinctly capture the work of our committee to help identify our website and other communications. This turned out to be an interesting discussion, since it compelled us to boil down the essence of what we are trying to achieve into a simple phrase. In the end, we decided on “EngagingGenEd”. We were attracted to the double meaning of this conjugation of words, which we felt reflected both our process and our goals: we want to engage the campus community in a vibrant discussion, and we want to ensure our curriculum is engaging for both our current and future students.

The GERC is charged with examining our current general education curriculum and making recommendations for any possible changes. Our goal is to ensure that general education reflects the mission of Wayne State University and the values and goals of its faculty, staff, and students. To this end, we strive to actively and continuously engage the WSU community in this process. Our new web site “EngagingGenEd” (http://www.wayne.edu/engaging-gened) provides a central hub for our activities. Here you can learn about the “roadmap” we are following, and examine the variety of information that will help to shape our work. Importantly, the website provides a means for you to join the conversation, from commenting on blog posts, submitting position papers, or communicating directly with committee members. The website is just one way we are reaching out to and updating the community. We are holding a series of focus groups with university stakeholders; a schedule of these meetings can be found on our website. In the coming months, we are also administering campus-wide surveys, meeting with other university committees, and planning a series of Town Hall meetings with the university community.

An engaging curriculum can and should mean more than coursework that holds interest for students. It can mean a curriculum in which a student is actively engaged in their learning. It can mean a curriculum that supports students in becoming active members of the university community, engaged with faculty, staff, and their fellow students. It can mean a curriculum that faculty feel excited about and eager to manifest. It can also mean engagement that reflects the mission and identity of the university, both in our scholarly and creative work as well as in our contributions to Detroit and surrounding communities. How can this best be achieved? This is the discussion we wish to have with you!

We invite you to join the conversation at http://www.wayne.edu/engaging-gened, and we look forward to hearing your views.

Tom Fischer, Associate Professor of Psychology
Committee co-chair