Suggestions for the Future

As the General Education Renewal Committee stressed throughout this year, the proposed curriculum framework is not the final word on the new general education curriculum.  It is meant to provide guidance to our colleagues who will be involved in the process of developing specific student learning outcomes, freshman seminar themes, pathway themes, courses to satisfy important skills (e.g. quantitative reasoning and oral communication), and culminating experiences within the various majors.  These and other issues related to implementation and administration of the curriculum are meant to be developed over the next two years by numerous faculty and staff members working in an environment that promotes collegiality and consensus.  Materials related to our committee’s deliberation process (i.e. readings, survey results, roundtable feedback, departmental feedback, expanded explanations of the different facets of the curriculum, and public meeting notes) is available to you through the General Education Renewal website.  One of GERC’s final actions leading up to the faculty vote on the curriculum framework was to compile and summarize straw poll respondent suggestions for future deliberations.  The following provides a synopsis of the straw poll responses, as well as GERC suggestions on how to act upon that feedback.

Culminating Experience
Though the curricular framework describes this a three-hour course within a major taken during a student’s senior year, there should be room for flexibility in terms of the distribution of those hours.  For example, one department currently has students complete an in-depth research project over four semesters, with one credit being given in each semester.  Another department has a two-course sequence completed over two semesters for a total of six credits.  There should be a minimum of three credits devoted to whatever each department determines will be its culminating experience, and the nature of that experience should adhere to the general guidelines delineated in GERC’s culminating experience document, but certainly each department should be able to tailor it to the needs of its students.
There may be opportunities within the culminating experience for faculty-mentor collaborations, conference presentation opportunities, career and professional development opportunities (e.g. speakers, recruitment workshops, resume building), and pertinent co-curricular components.  These are not required elements, but for some programs, they may be useful to students as they prepare to embark on their careers or post-graduate studies.  It may be useful to have a mechanism in place whereby the majors can share what they are doing in their culminating experiences, so that others may adopt ideas that they find interesting.
Those departments wanting to develop culminating experiences that explicitly connect to certain parts of the Mission Statement, or wanting to expand on the reflection component developed by GERC, are welcome to do so.  The required components that all majors must adhere to are delineated on the curriculum framework, but beyond those requirements, departments are free to develop courses or projects that they think will be most relevant to their students. 
Because this is such an important component of a St. Edward’s education and because we want to ensure that each major develops a rigorous experience for its students, both GERC and the Curriculum Models Group included an oversight committee in the proposed curriculum framework.  However, the composition and administrative functions of the committee will need to be determined in future deliberations among interested faculty.
Student Learning Outcomes
One of the most important things that will need to be accomplished over the next year is the development of specific courses.  GERC has provided broad definitions for the various elements of the curriculum, but experts in those areas should be the ones to determine the final manifestation of these elements.  For instance, communications faculty in the Schools of Humanities and Business and other faculty with relevant backgrounds will decide what the oral communication element should entail.  Will it be one course with multiple sections?  Should that course be something different the current Presentational Speaking?  Should it be a cluster of courses from which students can choose?  Will it be strictly focused on oral speaking skills or might visual communication skills be addressed as well?  What are the learning outcomes that will be associated with this course or courses?  Who will teach them?  This sort of collaborative and consensus-building conversation will need to take place as we develop each of the curriculum elements.  
As experts around campus develop the actual courses that will fulfill the various general education requirements, it would be advantageous not to develop the corresponding SLOs in a vacuum.  It is our hope that the various courses complement each other in terms of the skills and knowledge that students acquire during their time on the Hilltop. We also advise that there be intentional scaffolding across the general education curriculum and within the majors.  GERC has done this for certain skills, but there may be opportunities for additional integration and scaffolding as concrete courses are developed.
There is voluminous research that demonstrates that problem-based and project-based learning allows students to more deeply understand skills and issues by becoming active scholars, and our mission has an explicit focus on preparing students to solve problems and act to change the world.  Thus, problem solving and project-based learning (in the broad sense of a student developing and completing his/her own discipline-related project) is required to be part of the culminating experience.  GERC encourages such components also be part of the freshman seminars and the experiential learning integration as well.  The overall curriculum will be stronger if there are other places where such learning is encouraged.  To a large extent, this will happen through decisions made by individual faculty as they put together their courses, but a culture of active learning should be encouraged on campus as the new curriculum is implemented.
Development of New Courses
There will be opportunities for faculty members to create new courses in order to populate key elements of the curriculum, such as the freshman seminar, courses in the pathways, and culminating experiences for those majors who do not currently have one. We also envision faculty from across campus being more directly involved in oversight of the general education curriculum (such as serving on a committee charged with approving courses for a particular curriculum element or acting as a group leader of a living learning community).  An impetus for these revisions is to include more tenure-track faculty within the general education program, so it may be helpful to provide incentives and resources to those faculty who are willing to develop such courses and serve in leadership positions.