Millersville University, Faculty Senate

General Education Curriculum

Program Review

May 1996


II. Quality of the Program

A. Design
The general education curriculum is designed around the twelve goals previously stated. It is instructive to assess whether these goals are suitable for a general education curriculum.

Jerry Gaff (New Life for the College Curriculum 1991, Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco) identifies four issues that general education curricula attempt to include. Each of these is presented below, along with Millersville's response. 1. Content--This is a balance between the knowledge a student should have learned, the skills that a graduate should have mastered, and the qualities that a graduate should possess. In other words, this is the balance between the content of courses and the process of learning.

In terms of its objectives, the general education curriculum at Millersville is very strongly process oriented. Of the goals stated above, just three (f. "knowledge", g. "breadth", and i. "diversity") attempt to expand a student's knowledge base; six (b. "inquiry & communication", c. "reasoning", d. "analysis", j. "citizenship", k. "wholeness", and l. "decision") encourage skill development; and three attempt to imbue students with certain qualities (a. "creativity", e. "curiosity", and h. "truth & beauty"). However, many students comment that courses still are content based, that students are lectured at rather than being included in discussions. This ties in with active learning. It also is related to the curriculum prescribing change but leaving much of it to the students in course selection.

2. Coherence--The general education curriculum should be more than just all its parts together, but rather have an overall focus. This focus should be planned, not simply left for students to discover.

Millersville--s general education curriculum has little coherence in this sense. Although it clearly is structured, students are the sole ones who determine how courses will fit together. Unfortunately, any plan of courses many well be thwarted by course unavailability. It also is true that few students are ready to see the interrelationships; they simply do not have the knowledge base. But this is perhaps a stronger argument for somewhat more planning in a student's course of general education study; the faculty perhaps should guide students into seeing these interrelationships, either in the class room or through advising.

3. Commonality--The conflict here is between inculcating common values while simultaneously giving an appreciation of individual differences.

Millersville's general education curriculum does not address this issue directly, although campus life does. Although the university is situated in a socially and politically conservative county, with a rather homogeneous population, great efforts have been made to expose students to many viewpoints. Students are actively recruited from other areas of the state, notably urban ones. In addition, foreign students are actively recruited, with incentives that include tuition remission.

In a different sense, the distribution requirements in the liberal arts core promotes diversity. The general education curriculum plus major requirements ensure that a student will take courses in at least eight of the twenty-six departments of the university. Commonality of learning is achieved with the fundamental courses, the emphasis on writing, the requirement of laboratory science and of a quantitative reasoning course, and the common physical education requirement.

4. Comprehensiveness--The goal here is to break down the discipline-specific barriers of departments both to show interrelationships but more importantly to give the general education curriculum its own strength, independent of the power of individual departments.

Millersville's general education program attempts to achieve this comprehensiveness in two major ways. The first is the creation of perspectives courses, multi-disciplinary or multi-cultural courses that a student takes after completing half of the liberal arts core. Some of these courses are team taught. A significant number are taught by individual faculty who thereby demonstrate their own interdisciplinary expertise to their students. Team taught courses have in general not been successful due to a large number of factors, not the least of which have been cost constraints.

The second is the establishment of writing across the curriculum. Students are exposed to both an entry-level and an advanced composition course, and additionally complete four courses with a significant writing component. They thus experience Francis Bacon's maxim that "writing maketh an exact man." Here they see that all disciplines benefit from the rigor of putting thoughts in writing.

There are some anecdotal reports of writing intensive courses in which practically no student writing occurs. There really is no mechanism in place for the enforcement of curriculum standards other than the tradition enforcement powers of department chairpersons and deans.

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