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Communicate with the Senate

A General Framework for Reform of UHM General Education Requirements

A Task Force Report to the UHM Faculty Senate, April 21, 1999

Click here for memo from Chair and Committee members.

Some faculty colleagues have asked a basic question: Why should UHM have General Education ("core") requirements? Task-force members believe this question reflects concerns with the size of our current set of requirements and the rather restrictive nature of those requirements. It is our belief, especially given the variation in backgrounds among our incoming students, that some General Education requirements are necessary, and, furthermore, that a properly designed set of requirements can yield a rich set of educational experiences. A fuller rationale for General Education requirements is evident in the following draft mission statement.

Draft UHM General Education Mission Statement

We, the faculty at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, invite students to participate in an undergraduate education dedicated to academic excellence and intended to help them make a difference in the world. We embrace the notion that higher education offers a special opportunity for students to experience the interconnectedness of human knowledge across disciplines. Because UH-Manoa is the premier research institution in the state of Hawai'i, its students interact with professors in the forefront of their disciplines and are thereby engaged in the study of how knowledge itself is produced and disseminated. Furthermore, UH-Manoa has unique resources in the depth of its Hawaiian assets and in the breadth of its multiculturalism. Consequently, the UH-Manoa General Education curriculum gives students global foundations with a special focus on the native cultures in Hawai'i and the Pacific.

The General Education requirements are designed to help students develop the skills and ways of thinking they need for study in their chosen majors and for lifelong learning. Graduates from UH-Manoa should know the cultural and artistic heritages of human history; further, they should understand the principles that underlie the natural and social worlds.

General Principles Behind Reformed General Education Requirements

  1. Graduation in four years. Any revisions should result in combinations of General Education and major requirements that students can reasonably complete in eight semesters of full-time academic work. Overall, we want to reduce the proportion of required courses. Students should be afforded a balance among specialization (major) courses, General Education courses, and electives.

  2. Coherence and Flexibility. Proposed changes should result in students' having a sense of coherence in their education. Coherence should grow not from an imposed uniformity but rather from connections that students are helped to discover in pursuing different interests and goals. Several of the elements of reform suggested below are intended to accomplish these dual purposes.

  3. The Academic Major As Anchor. Most students are particularly motivated in regard to their education in their chosen majors. Thus, a student's major department should be a locus for the student's experiences of coherence; it should provide academic guidance so that each student's general-education choices, major courses, and electives complement one another. Several of the elements of reform suggested below are intended to define this enhanced role for the major.

  4. Flexible Transfer Policies/Practices. Any proposed reform must take into account that a great number of students transfer to UH-Manoa from other institutions, including community colleges. It is in the best interest of our institution to attract such students. Any proposed reform will need to acknowledge existing articulation agreements and encourage flexibility in recognizing academic work accomplished in other institutions.

Possible Hallmarks of Reformed General Education Requirements

Below are several possible hallmarks for a new set of General Education requirements at UH-Manoa. These hallmarks do not at this time constitute a complete, integrated proposal. We offer them to describe approaches that seem consistent with our General Education mission, the UHM Strategic Plan, and our sense of realistic possibilities. We hope these descriptions will provoke discussion and refinement in the months ahead.

General Education requirements have two components: 1. foundational knowledge and skills (the focus of the first year); and 2. breadth and diversity in educational experience, sometimes called "distribution requirements" (ideally to be satisfied across a student's full four years).

  1. The First-Year Experience. In their first year, freshmen will take several courses, possibly linked, devoted to foundational knowledge and academic skills. These courses will promote understanding in several domains: world civilizations, including those of Hawai'i and the Pacific; music and arts in different cultural settings; the interplay among technology, ideas, beliefs and practices; and the evolution of epistemologies. The courses will be configured in a variety of ways, including learning communities, that encourage students to select a personally appropriate path for achieving foundational goals.

  2. Breadth in Educational Experience: A Rainbow of Opportunities. The breadth component of General Education will be accomplished via a "rainbow" requirement. Most UH-Manoa undergraduate courses (not merely the 300+ that are currently specified to meet General Education requirements) will be attached to one or another band of the rainbow, where each color represents an important domain of knowledge. This approach will greatly expand the options for students while simultaneously eliminating the current press of students in "core" lower-division courses. We recognize that access to some courses would be limited by pre-requisites. However, provision of alternative prerequisites in neighboring disciplines can promote access, new challenges, and students' discovery of connections between their majors and the rainbow of educational opportunities.

  3. Experience of Breadth throughout the Undergraduate Years. We believe that a strength of the UHM curriculum is that we can encourage students to spread their involvement with General Education over the full four years of their academic program. We believe that students can enrich their experiences through work in upper-level courses outside their majors as they fulfill the Rainbow of requirements just described.

  4. Faculty-guided, Major-focused Academic Planning. All students will have a faculty guide who helps them work out a coherent and intentional program of academic study that will be connected to their interests. One consequence of this practice will be to encourage the design of recommended combinations of courses from Rainbow options, combinations that would be valuable to students with particular goals.

  5. Incentives and Alternatives. "Wild Cards" will be awarded to students who engage in especially valued academic experiences. A wild card might, for example, be earned by participating in a Study Abroad program or by undertaking a significant community service project. Earned wild cards could be used to satisfy certain requirements of the Rainbow (breadth) Curriculum, though there would be a limit on the number of wild cards a student could use.

  6. Second Language Proficiency. The language requirement should be maintained, but students would be encouraged to earn university credit for pre-UHM language study by demonstrating proficiency. For some--eventually and ideally, all--students, the consequence would be to reduce the number of credits they would need for graduation.

    In addition, the Task Force offers one additional idea that may promote students' development of special expertise. It could be approached via connection to the Rainbow requirements described above or via connection to a major's requirements.

  7. A Matrix Approach to Required Academic Experiences. Courses across the Rainbow Curriculum, or within each major, would be identified as promoting one or more potentially required academic experiences and skills (e.g. speech, writing, critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, computer literacy, multi-cultural knowledge). The model would assure that students are provided with what the faculty have determined to be important skills without proliferating additional courses in the curriculum (an approach that parallels the current Writing-Intensive requirement). This approach can be pictured as a matrix, with a list of area or major requirements down a vertical axis and required academic experiences across a horizontal axis.

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