Connecticut College Magazine · Summer 2013

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Portrait of a Posse: How a handful of students from Chicago became campus leaders. Photo by A. Vincent Scarano

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What should students learn?


Ask a group of Connecticut College graduates about their experience with General Education (GE), and two different kinds of answers emerge. Some say that fulfilling the requirements, which include one course each from seven broad distribution areas, led them to an exciting topic or field of study that they would never have discovered otherwise. Other alumni, however, say that GE requirements were simply classes they had to take before they could study their true areas of interest.

These divergent views, along with the changing nature of higher education, have prompted the faculty to take on a daunting task: review and reform of the College's GE requirements, which have been in place with few modifications since 1973. (One change was the introduction of a small first-year seminar for every student in 2004.)

“In that timeframe so much has changed,” says Marc Zimmer, the Tempel Professor of Physical Sciences and co-chair of a 12-member GE Working Group. “We have an opportunity to rethink our curriculum to support new kinds of learning and thinking.”

Because changing GE requirements is notoriously controversial, faculty leaders decided on a multi-stage process. Stage 1, which took place during the past semester, was to build a faculty consensus around desired learning outcomes or goals for GE.

A working group of faculty, staff and students, chaired by Zimmer and Suzuko Knott, assistant professor of German, solicited input from across campus via panels, discussions, surveys and other activities. One recurring discussion point was about the acquisition of intellectual skills — such as critical thinking, writing and research skills — versus content. Other questions centered on whether and how GE should foster a shared set of values or ethical framework.

In May, the faculty approved a set of learning outcomes (see below) that are “designed to develop educated citizens who will demonstrate curiosity about the natural, physical, and social world (past, present, and future) and one's place in it, taking into account global concerns: sustainability, social location, and ethics.”

A new working group will work through the summer on Stage 2 of the process — designing curricular models to meet those learning goals that will be presented for broader discussion and review in the fall. If all goes well, the new requirements will be voted in during the next academic year and will take effect for the Class of 2018.

In May, the faculty approved the following learning outcomes for a new General Education program:

Knowledge
• Acquire and integrate ideas from the humanities, natural sciences and mathematics, social sciences, and the arts
• Develop awareness and broad knowledge of diverse cultures, past and present
• Understand that human inquiry is a social practice and that every discipline has a history
• Understand one's social location, power and privilege

Skills
• Develop cultural competence, including how to engage with and respect diverse local and global communities and their languages
• Critically examine, synthesize, and assess written, visual, quantitative, and oral arguments
• Formulate a research question and collect and evaluate data using relevant methods and technologies
• Communicate powerfully and persuasively — orally and in writing — taking into account audience and context
• Express one's ideas using non-verbal forms
• Obtain, evaluate, ethically use and present information
• Approach a central problem from a variety of perspectives and disciplines
• Apply learning in a way to engage the campus, the local community, or both
• Employ creative problem solving and develop imaginative thinking

Ethics
• Reflect on the ethical significance of one's learning
• Incorporate multiple perspectives in learning and decision making
• Apply learning to live a socially responsible life on campus and beyond


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