University of Hawaii General Education Project Review of General Education Literature Literature Review Committee: Carol Anne Dickson, Chair Andrea Bartlett Catherine Thompson Sandy Davis Jim Heasley Lynn Hodgson Tom Pearson A Project of the University of Hawai'i General Education Coordinating Committee Spring 1996
University of Hawai`i General Education Project Review of the General Education Literature ..the University must...ensure that all students acquire skills for life-long learning and basic knowledge in the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences... (University of Hawai`i, A Strategy for Academic Quality 1985-95, Preamble). Purpose of general education. The University of Hawai`i's mandate, as cited above, is similar to that of numerous mainland institutions, and the mandate supports a common definition of general education as "...the cultivation of the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that all of us use and live by during most of our lives" (3, p .3). Both the mandate and the definition describe the purpose of general education. While there is substantial variation in opinions regarding the implementation of general education, many writers seem to agree, in broad terms, on the purpose of general education in institutions of higher learning. The purpose of general education has changed little over the last century, and stated in one word, could be said to be "community." Learning about oneself and the world in an orderly and coherent manner defines the purpose of general education according to Perry (29). "Insight" (4) or "understanding" (34) are also words that have been used to define the purpose of general education. "Looking beyond individual perspectives" (3) is also a phrase used. Stark and Lattuca (34), in describing a project of the Association of American Colleges (AAC), found that faculty were in agreement about the purpose and goals of general education, but wanted the freedom within their disciplines to pursue those goals. AAC used the term "connected learning" to describe general education. AAC identified two similar descriptions of connected learning. The first referred to the "capacity for constructing relationships among various modes of knowledge and curricular experiences" (3, p.4). The second description referred to "the capacity to relate academic learning to the wider world, public issues, and personal experiences" (3, p .5). Faculty involved in the AAC project agreed that coherence, or the integration of knowledge and skills, was a primary goal of general education. Boyer and Levine (12) integrated the statements of many writers regarding the purpose of general education. They found that general education is "...rooted in the belief that individualism, while essential, is not sufficient" (p. 18) and that the individual must be considered as part of a community. They stated that general education and majors serve as a balance between interdependence and independence, respectively, and that general education "...acknowledges the necessary balance between individual preferences and community needs.".... "A common agenda for study and investigation and a common discourse..." (p. 19) describe the purpose of general education according to Boyer and Levine. They made a strong argument for general education as a means to understanding a "shared cultural heritage, a shared agenda of urgent contemporary problems, and a shared future that cannot be ignored" (p. 38). The summation offered by Boyer and Levine parallels that of other writers. They stated: In short, general education seemed to have an historically certain purpose. It seemed to us to embrace those experiences, problems, relationships, ethical concerns, and sources of conflict that are common to all of us simply by virtue of our membership in the human family and in a particular society, at a given moment in history. Placed in historical context, general education appears to us to be an education reaffirmation of the social bond that joins all people. (p. 58) Content. Scholars have debated the content of the general education curriculum for several decades, and as yet, no definitive answer exists. Many European universities have instituted national common learning curricula as has Japan (25). In the United States, however, individual institutions are given latitude to arrive at their own general education curricula. The general education curricula at institutions around the country differ in format and content. The wide variety of approaches to general education can be seen in the work of Toombs, et. al. (36) who surveyed the general education requirements at over 700 colleges. Many discussions and movements regarding the reform of general education have occurred over the past 20 years. National trends include: liberal arts and sciences subject matter; fundamental skills; higher standards and increased requirements; increased structure of curriculum organization; freshman year/community learning experience; senior year experience, including a capstone experience; global studies; cultural diversity; integration of education through all four years; and assessment (20). Many institutions pick and choose from the trends that are of particular interest to them at the time, based on the pedagogical, political, and economic concerns of the moment (31), as well as the classification of the institution. Literacy. What should college graduates know? Knowledge, skills, personal qualities, and additional controversial issues (20) are all considerations underlying the questions regarding what college graduates should know. Hirsch (24) suggests a common core of knowledge known as "cultural literacy." Bennett (6) suggests a comprehensive approach that includes an understanding of Western civilization; prominent English, American and European literary works; the history of philosophy; foreign language; a non-Western culture; and the history of science and technology. Bloom (7) suggests a Great Books approach, wherein students read classical texts so that each shares a common educational experience. Several institutions have adopted the Great Books approach (13). Boyer and Levine (12) differ in their beliefs of what should be included in a common core. They advocate studying the use of symbols, membership in groups and institutions, activities of production and consumption, relationships with nature, sense of time, and values and beliefs. Cheny (15) proposes that of the approximate 120 required semester hours constituting a college education, 50 of those should be spent in general education. Beyond Cheney's "50 Hours," there have been numerous other attempts at defining a core curriculum (30; 14; 22). Approaches vary amongst institutions. Multidisciplinary approaches to the core are increasingly common. Frequently, new general education curricula emphasize the multicultural nature of modern society. Skills. Both in and out of academe there has been agreement that students need to develop skills such as writing and oral communication, logical and critical thinking, computer utilization, mathematical analysis, and formal reasoning (20). Many recent curriculum changes have emphasized the development of these skills. Proponents of a skill-based curriculum argue that no content can cover all that students need to know to function well in society. The university needs to train the mind to sharpen questions, identify basic assumptions, think through complex topics, find evidence pertaining to relevant issues, assess alternative interpretations and claims, and make reasonable decisions (20). This focus highlights lifelong learning. A trend gaining popularity is the distribution of skills across the entire curriculum, such as the writing across the curriculum program at UH. At other universities the across the curriculum practice includes communication skills (21; 26), critical thinking (5), computer utilization (18), and mathematics (39;41). Structure. Members of the AAC Project on Redefining the Meaning and Purpose of Baccalaureate Degrees asserted that "general education starts with diversity but aims at coherence" (4, p. 12). Possible ways colleges and universities could achieve coherence include the following: (a) core courses or a modified core taken by all students (i.e., first-year seminar, followed by course(s) in the humanities or sciences); (b) senior capstone seminars or projects in which students integrate their general education learning through study of universally significant topics; (c) interdisciplinary courses that emphasize the connections among two or more disciplines or even "draw out the bond-like connections among subject matters to create intellectual substance of a different order" (23, p. 371); (d) one-credit general education seminars in which students would enroll each semester (40); and (e) one major focus that permeates all course work (e.g., San Jose State University's Cultural Pluralism requirement for all courses). Improving teaching and enhancing evaluation. The purpose of teaching and the primary purpose of a college education, Cross (16) has reminded us, is "to involve students actively in their own learning and to elicit from them their best learning performance" (p. 20). This purpose may be achieved in any number of ways: through writing; debates; collaborative activities; even lively, well-planned lectures. A reexamination of the liberal arts curriculum demonstrates that it has the power to improve teaching since "it is the one part of the curriculum where creative planning can still take place" (12, p. 50). An institution can be assessed in terms of its students, faculty, and programs (4). Students should be evaluated relative to the nature of their preparation, their progress through the program, and finally "the difference the curriculum has made in the capacity of students to function as effective human beings" (4, pp.33-34). Evaluation of faculty generally involves student rating scales with characteristics such as concern for students, knowledge of subject matter, and stimulation of interest (16). Finally, in order to assess programs, Yarbrough (41) emphasized: "First, the institution must commit the financial and human resources to conduct a good evaluation and act on it to improve the program" (p. 231). A review of university systems approaches to general education. Although many institutions of higher education can agree on the goals of general education, they have countless methods for meeting those goals. This diversity is also reflected in the diversity of methods used by university systems in approaching general education. Some systems have approached the issues of system-wide general education requirements with a highly structured system of required courses. The courses themselves may be structured to the point that every instructor teaching a required course is required to teach using the same text books and other instructional materials, the same syllabus and the same exams. Other systems have agreed upon a core of general education courses that are acceptable and students are allowed to choose from amongst the offerings on all campuses with all general education courses transferable within the system. The mobility of today's college students has made transfer of credits among institutions an increasingly important issue in higher education (32). Credit transfer is of particular concern at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa where, of 1200 transfer students, 67% transfer general education courses taken at one of the system's community colleges. Approximately 40% of the students transferring to Manoa take more than half of their general education courses at community colleges (17). It is wise, therefore, to consider how other higher education systems have addressed issues of general education and credit transfers among units in the system. According to Florida's General Education Compact, students in the Florida system may apply as many as 36 credit hours in general education, from any campus in the system, to baccalaureate degrees pursued within the system (19). In the New Jersey public state colleges system, general education courses may be transferred amongst all campuses in the public state college system (27). In California, it is the individual community colleges that determine and select the courses that are to be accepted by the system's baccalaureate-granting institutions (28). The City University of New York (CUNY) has also attempted to address the issue of credit transfer by implementing the following policies: (1) Students with CUNY associate of arts and associate of science degrees are guaranteed a place within the system's senior colleges (8); (2) Students with associate in applied science degrees cannot be required to take more than 72 credits at a senior college (9); and (3) Students may transfer all liberal arts and science courses throughout the system (10). However, Bowles (11) reported that these policies, have been applied unevenly. Going beyond the transfer of existing courses, Minnesota began with the question: "What should a liberally educated person in our time know and be able to do?" Based on faculty input from throughout the system, each of Minnesota's community colleges redesigned its general education curriculum to address this question. The newly-developed transfer curricula now satisfy the general education requirement at any public university in Minnesota (37). Several writers, including Boyer and Gaff (12; 20), found that the institutionalization of general education requirements depends substantially on the employment of faculty development programs that focus on generating energy born of a common commitment to a common goal. Gaff's (20) summation states that: Faculty development is not simply something "nice" to do. The evidence indicated that it is a very important strategy for strengthening general education by changing a curriculum, by,improving the nature of teaching and learning within course, and by keeping the focus on the people at the heart of the enterprise--students and faculty members. (p. 120) According to Boyer and Gaff (12; 20), implementation of a course of action relative to system-wide general education will be greatly enhanced if faculty are involved in the implementation from development of a general education core to the delivery of the courses to be included in it. In summary, a preponderance of the literature reviewed indicated a level of agreement regarding the purpose and generally desired outcomes of a general education curriculum. Implementation of the curriculum on a given campus or among units of a system of campuses must, due to diverse needs, be left to individual units. It is faculty, however, who must sustain the core and its mission and vitality on a day-to-day basis.
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