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Curricular models for structuring general education (or a core curriculum) fall along a spectrum. Here are descriptions of a few models.

Our current general education uses a Distribution Requirements model. There are many long-standing issues this model creates, such as lack of coherence, problems with transfer and articulation, inconsistent scaffolding of learning, and a cumbersome administration (with too many committees, proposals, and a long list of designations). Some institutions have simply updated the learning outcomes in their distribution models of requirements, but the core problems remain for students and faculty alike. Ohio State University has a new Gen Ed curriculum (see summary of requirements (PDF)) that is most similar to ours; Oregon State University’s Baccalaureate Core is another example. They have updated (21st century) sets of competencies/learning outcomes, but a similar system of attaching designations to a huge list of courses. Instead, we are seeking a different kind of curricular model, such as one of the following.

Multidisciplinary Cohorts

First is a model like Portland State University (see Freshmen Inquiry courses, for example), or Connecticut College’s Connections Curriculum (see Integrative Pathways example), with well structured courses in themed sequences that incorporate multidisciplinary approaches and Gen Ed skills at different points in a four-year curriculum. At Portland State, students ideally stay together in cohorts for a year. This model could work extremely well with some modifications for our size and ten campus system, but it would involve the creation of brand new courses in a dedicated Gen Ed program. Thus, while taught by faculty in many programs, departments, and divisions across our campuses, the courses would be technically separate from those departments. Multidisciplinary cohorts Gen Ed curricula are highly structured, engaging for students, and efficient (they require fewer credits to achieve student learning outcomes).

A Multidisciplinary Cohorts model for UH would include specific parameters. For example, GE 101 courses must have arts, literature and humanities content that address one of the themes adopted by a campus, and they may also incorporate foundational written and oral communication skills. GE 102 courses must also connect to a theme but might then use content from the social and natural sciences, and have foundational quantitative reasoning skill development. Similar guidelines would be created for sections of GE 201, 202, 301, 302, etc. The end result would be the development of a good sized list of GE 101 and 102 sections with thematic content such as Sustainability content, Climate Change content, Native Hawaiian and Pacific cultural content, and so forth. This model could also work with co-teaching, where a history professor, for example, could teach one-third of 3 different sections of GE 111.

Themed Buckets of Courses

A model somewhere in between Multidisciplinary Cohorts and UH’s current model is illustrated in Oregon State University’s Baccalaureate Core “Playlists.” In this model, we can have an updated group of learning outcomes and competencies, worked into courses across the curriculum (much like our current Focus and Diversification courses) that are, however, grouped into themed clusters of choices. Here too we can build Gen Ed skills (e.g. written and oral communication, quantitative reasoning, ethical reasoning, critical thinking, information literacy) into courses at several, scaffolded points. Similarly, themed clusters can include (although they don’t in the OSU example) required civic and community engagement, undergraduate research experiences, and other high-impact practices that are scaled up to the institutional level like at Salt Lake Community College and Georgia College.

Hybrid Models

We can select features from different curricular models too. As a hypothetical example, we might construct a structured, 2 (or 3 or 4) course foundational sequence that is interdisciplinary, and which incorporates foundational skills, as described in the “Multidisciplinary Cohorts” model. This 2-4 course sequence (6 to 12 credits) could perhaps replace our current FW, FQ, and 19-credits of Diversifications designations. Beyond that shared core, perhaps additional competencies (e.g. intercultural communication, teamwork), and reinforcement/skill development with more coursework in written and oral communication, quantitative and ethical reasoning, critical thinking and information literacy, and so forth can be built into courses at the 200, 300 and 400 levels within campus-specific sets of themes.

One example of a hybrid model can be found at Virginia Commonwealth University. Their program includes multidisciplinary Area of Inquiry course sequences with exposure to a wide range of foundational competencies (see descriptions of UNIV 111 and UNIV 112), but their requirements also include Breadth of Knowledge (a lower-credit version of Diversifications). Other hybrid examples include Nebraska Wesleyan&8217;s Archway Curriculum and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

These are certainly not the only curricular models for structuring General Education competencies and requirements, but should help give you a sense of the many possibilities open to us.

Last modified: May 3, 2022
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