The General Education Review Board is in the midst of reviewing the university’s CORE and general education courses.
A committee of five faculty members and three ex officio members has conducted meetings with faculty, held student focus groups, and randomly sampled students by survey to gather data regarding CORE and general education requirements.
The committee is assessing whether or not CORE and general education are meeting the outcomes that have been set for students. These expectations are not just established by ACU, but are national standards from the Association of American Colleges and Universities. The outcomes include integrative thinking, problem solving, high levels of written and oral communication, ethical behavior and responsible citizenship.
In looking at these goals, the committee will present a report of their commendations of what’s being done well and recommendations for changes to curriculum requirements.
Dr. Gregory Straughn, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said he thinks the data gathered from these recent meetings will lead to some changes in CORE and general education curriculum, but most changes would be small scale.
In general education, a few topics have emerged as major discussion points.
As general education stands, history courses are not required for students to graduate. Straughn said the question of whether it ought to be required has come up again.
“What is our exposure for students to have a historical understanding?” Straughn said. “How do I understand the past and how it informs who I am today?”
This question is an important one. If one of the university’s outcomes for students is to leave this place with integrative thinking skills, requiring history falls right in line. Requiring students to engage in the past and think critically about how it shapes the future would only strengthen the education ACU students receive.
A second topic brought up in meetings with student focus groups was the idea of having smaller freshman Bible classes. Having class sizes north of 100 students comes as a disadvantage to both students and professors.
“It’s hard having large classes,” Straughn said. “It’s efficient, but is that really what we want?
We ask everyone to take them, we think they are important, so shouldn’t we make them as rich and formative as possible?”
Though smaller Bible classes could lead to increased number of classes and professors, the benefits that come with small class size outweigh the cost. Smaller class size could provide better opportunity to facilitate meaningful discussion than lecture halls full of 100 plus students.
Many honors students have this opportunity and as a result, have richer experiences that derive from the setting of their class.
Wes Robbins, sophomore psychology major from Clear Lake, has had three semesters of small Bible classes that he said have been very formative for him.
“Being in a small Bible class is an incredible thing because of the community you develop,” Robbins said. “Having less people, you have less commotion and regular classroom hoopla you have to jump through leaving room for more relational-type stuff that can make a Bible class so rich. Small classes force you into close proximity with the ideas, and there’s no hiding. You have to come to grips with the tougher things when there’s less bodies to hide behind. It’s so much more than just a class, but rather becomes a journey you’re on with people who know you best.”
Kalyn Prince, senior political science major from Plano, participated in the student focus group that discussed what in the general education requirements should be reevaluated.
She said many of the other students in the group that came from COBA or hard sciences voiced that their writing skills had improved little to none over the course of their college career.
“They think having better writing communication skills would improve their education experience and they think that needs to come in through general education courses,” she said.
Many of us on the editorial board, being in a communications department, cringe upon hearing that our peers may enter the workplace without sufficient writing skills. Maybe some of them feel rusty because they finished their English credits in high school. But if students are admitting they don’t feel confident in their writing ability, they will be lacking a skill that is necessary in most jobs.
The solution may not be to add more English requirements, but perhaps add a more writing intensive element to one of the CORE classes.
Finally, among talks about general education is one of the university’s buzz words, “intercultural.”
Prince said when asked about intercultural experiences, students responded that all of their intercultural experiences had come from Study Abroad, not their general education classes.
“Nothing intercultural really took place in the general education courses and not as much as you would hope for in the CORE classes,” she said.
When students list Study Abroad as their only educational intercultural experience, it is indicative to the idea that it has to be experiential. Just learning and reading about Islam like we do in BCORE doesn’t necessarily count as having an intercultural experience. Not to mention that Study Abroad is only an option to a fraction of our students.
Finally, perhaps the most controversial of the general education curriculum has been the CORE classes. The main reason we’ve found the inconsistency among sections of classes because of the difference in professors.
Prince said she had a really good experience with CORE because as an honors student she lucked out with really good professors.
CORE always seems to come down to who your professor is. “In that respect, I think the university is doing a better job at picking better professors for it,” she said.
Because CORE evolved from the idea that professors of different disciplines could come together to offer a richer teaching experience, it lead to much incongruity in what students in each section were actually learning.
When the General Education Review Board begins to consider how much CORE has evolved over a full four-year cycle, they should not just listen to student and faculty voices, but consider whether the curriculum they are creating goes beyond the goal of “critical thinking.” Critical thinking is another buzzword, not just at universities, but among grad school and job applications. Yet it’s a quality that hasn’t been found quantifiable. In reevaluating the CORE curriculum, let’s stop asking students if they feel capable of critical thinking and instead ask them if they have 1) have learned from historical events of the past 2) can synthesize information in writing and 3) have seen the world through an intercultural lens.