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April 2008 draft General Education Program structure

This draft for a new General Education Program Structure for the UMD Campus is a work in progress. The following document attempts to outline both a new structure for General Education requirements, and present criteria for courses that would satisfy each theme and/or category in that program. All members of the Liberal Education Task Force have helped to generate this working document. This document will be the focus of the next Liberal Education Public Forum Wednesday April 9th in Kirby Ballroom C from 1:30-3:00 p.m. The forum will involve several small group discussions giving participants the opportunity to respond to the new program presented here, as well as suggest other ways that our campus can effectively achieve the desired learning outcomes of a liberal education.

General Education Program
Draft 4-02-2008

Four Categories

The following category focuses on preparing students to communicate effectively through writing and speaking:

I. Written and Oral Communication

A. Written Communication:
WRIT1120—College Writing (3 cr) or its equivalent must be completed during the first two semesters of attendance at UMD as part of the UMD General Education Program or Minnesota Transfer Curriculum.

WRIT 31XX—Advanced Composition will continue to be embedded in majors across the university.

B. Oral Communication:
Students are required to take one course approved to satisfy the Oral Communication requirement. Oral Communication courses focus on the theory and practice of public speaking in a variety of settings – one on one, small groups, and formal presentations to larger groups.

[Courses fitting the Oral Communication category have as their object of study the analysis, comprehension, and interpretation of oral, written, and visual communication. The courses will address the effective communication of ideas related to a broad range of subjects and/or to a specific area of study.]

The following three categories focus on developing awareness of the foundations of knowledge and inquiry about nature, culture, and society. Students are required to take 8 courses total, all having different designators, with at least 2 in each category.

II. Science and Math
Students are required to complete at least 2 courses.

Science courses focus on the observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theory of natural phenomena. Math courses develop the ability to use and analyze formal symbolic systems, with an emphasis on developing skills in mathematics or statistics.

[Courses fitting the science and math category have as their object of study mathematics, biology, and physical sciences as bodies of knowledge. The courses will address how to test mathematical conclusions, and/or how to formulate and test scientific hypotheses, interpret experimentally obtained data, and draw conclusions from the data. Math and science courses also create a link between mathematical and scientific ideas and problems that arise in the everyday world.]

III. Arts and Humanities
Students are required to complete at least 2 courses.

Courses in the arts and humanities category are concerned with exploring the range of the human experience largely by way of analyzing, describing, criticizing, and evaluating human culture.

[Courses fitting the arts & humanities category have as their object of study humans, human society and human culture; and generally employ critical, hermeneutic, historical, normative and analytical methods in their engagement with these objects. In contrast to the social sciences, humanistic approaches generally address questions of meaning, aesthetics, morality and interpretation that recognize the enquirer as subjectively engaged with, rather than separate from, the object(s) of study.]

IV. Social Sciences
Students are required to complete at least 2 courses.

Courses in the social sciences category seek to elucidate human behavior and society by adapting the disposition and methods of science to the unique characteristics of the human world.

[Courses fitting the social sciences category have as their object of study human beings, human behavior and human society; and may employ a positivist approach, or other quantitative or qualitative approaches consistent with the scientific method. Unlike the humanities, social science encourages enquirers to adopt an objective viewpoint consistent with the goal of addressing empirical(ly verifiable) questions by way of experimentation.]

Eight Themes

Students are required to complete courses that have been identified as addressing the following themes. The courses that satisfy each theme do not have to be the same courses that satisfy the General Education Categories listed above. These courses could be a part of the major field of study or free electives. Courses may satisfy a category and a theme, or more than one theme. The eight themes are:

Civic Engagement
The Civic Engagement theme focuses on developing the ability to become civically aware, skilled and committed to act for the public good.

Courses meeting the requirements of this theme will:
--Provide students with significant opportunity to participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs and course content.
--Require reflection on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of the course content.
--Generate a broader appreciation of civic engagement skills and create an enhanced sense of civic responsibility.

Creative Expression
The Creative Expression theme focuses on developing the ability to think and act with creativity, demonstrating intellectual curiosity, imagination and flexibility.

Courses meeting the requirements of this theme will:
--Provide students significant opportunities to learn about and practice the techniques of artistic creation.
--Enable students to comprehend, analyze, and interpret works of art.
--Enable students to comprehend the relationship between the creative process and historical, socio-economic, and cultural forces.

Cultural Diversity in the United States
The Cultural Diversity in the United States theme focuses on creating awareness of diverse cultural values and increasing a commitment to knowledge and competence across cultures.

Courses meeting the requirements of this theme will:
– Critically examine issues of human and cultural diversity.
– Provide an understanding of differences based on race, class, gender, ethnicity, age, disability, affectional orientation, and religious diversity.
– Examine diverse traditions and values, as well as the social, cultural, and political contributions of different groups.
– Advance students’ understanding of how social difference in the U.S. has shaped social, political, and cross-cultural relationships.

Historical Perspective
The Historical Perspective theme focuses on developing an awareness of the past and its relevance to the present and the future.

Courses meeting the requirements of this theme will:
--Consider the development, through time, of some topic, problem or subject.
--Feature an emphasis on historical context, and how the topic, problem, or issue in question has been conditioned by a range of different contexts.
--Involve direct engagement with primary sources and documents, with some attention to the complexities of interpretation and the dynamic relationship between historical texts and their contexts.
--Consider the value of historical study for its own sake, as means of understanding the diverse manifestations of human nature, culture and civilization within human history.
--Consider the value of historical study as a means of informing our understanding of the present.

Information and Quantitative Literacy
The Information and Quantitative Literacy theme focuses on the ability to access, evaluate, and make use of information gathered through multiple methodologies. It also focuses on the ability to formulate, and evaluate conclusions and inferences from quantitative data.

Courses meeting the requirements of this theme will:
– Address how to determine the information needed and access the needed information effectively and efficiently.
– Provide an understanding of how to valuate information and its sources critically (including qualitative, numeric and graphical data).
– Expect students to investigate questions by selecting and utilizing appropriate data and quantitative methods.
– Promote interpretation of numeric and graphical results to address questions and issues under consideration.

International Perspective
The International Perspective theme focuses on developing an awareness of contemporary global issues.

Courses meeting the requirements of this theme will:
– Expose students to the responsibilities of global citizenship.
– Develop knowledge about at least one non-U.S. country, culture, or region in some depth.
– Encourage students to understand our changing global world, the ways in which they will participate in global change, and anticipate how they might be impacted by international policy and economics.
– Provide students with opportunities to develop intercultural competence.

Moral and Ethical Reasoning
The Moral and Ethical Reasoning theme focuses on developing an awareness of the ethical implications of ideas and actions.

Courses meeting the requirements of this theme will:
--Explore moral and ethical theories (Normative Ethics).
--Apply knowledge of ethical and moral theories (Normative Ethics) to practical issues and concrete cases (Applied Ethics).
--Position moral and ethical judgments as the outcome of a process of debate and discussion in which arguments on both (all) sides of an issue are weighed, and enact this process in the classroom.
--Emphasize the nexus between moral/ethical judgments, actions, and their consequences.
--Consider the implications of moral and ethical reasoning for individual conduct, as well as the conduct of communities and polities.

The Environment
The Environment theme focuses on developing an awareness of the interaction of the natural environment with societal needs and desires.

Courses meeting the requirements of this theme will:
--Address in detail one or more important environmental issues or topics.
--Consider both the scientific as well as the economic, social and political dimensions of the topic, with some attention to the relationship between scientific enquiry and policy-making.
--Cover fundamental scientific principles applicable to environmental issues, and utilize these principles to evaluate the validity of information pertaining to the topic in question.
--Provide the economic, social and political context necessary to analyze the issue or topic from a public policy perspective, with special consideration to the challenge of reconciling the needs of human society with those of the natural environment essential to sustaining all life.

Other recommendations

1. Courses applying to be accepted as satisfying a General Education Program requirement will no longer be restricted to only the 1xxx or 2xxx level.

2. All programs will be asked to undergo a self-study of their curriculum to address several issues.

a. Each program will explore how they plan to accomplish the mission of a liberal education through the courses required for their majors. The learning outcomes contained in the new mission statement must be achieved throughout the students’ educational process and not only within the 35-40 credits that satisfy the General Education Program. Each program should inspect and identify where they are currently achieving these outcomes within their major coursework.

b. Each program will develop a strategy for satisfying the specific needs of the newly designed General Education Program. This would include resubmitting courses for approval for the appropriate categories and themes. In particular, it is expected that many majors will choose to incorporate one or more of the required themes into the courses already required within the major.

3. The Task Force recognizes the importance of pedagogy in General Education courses. A recommendation with respect to pedagogy will be provided in more detail at a later date.

4. There needs to be a carefully designed program to educate the faculty, staff, and students about the details of the new program. This would include generating as much support as possible for redefining the way we promote and deliver liberal education on campus.


Two quick comments:

1. Now we have another requirement which appears to be limited to one department. Things are getting worse not better IMO! In this new draft, not only must all UMD grads satisfy a two-course writing requirement within the bounds of one department (Writing Studies), but it looks very likely they will all be required to take a Communication class. Not good! More restrictions, another enrollment bottleneck, too monodisciplinary to be useful to all students. It would be far better and more in tune with our commitment to breadth and diversity (not to mention consistent with everything else the LibEd committee is proposing for other categories/themes) to suggest a requirement involving opportunities for presentations in ANY discipline that cares to offer such a course.

2. Take that definition of "social science", put any 2 randomly selected social science people in a room together with it, and wait for the fur to start flying... :)

Fascinating. Much work yet to be done in building consensus, to be sure -- any document which constitutes something (in this case, liberal education as a program, the ways of knowing in the categories and the objects of knowledge in the themes) will cause trouble, as Eve rightly recognizes. Humanities claims "culture" in this scheme, but surely anthropology has a claim on the term. And so on.

I just want to chime in, briefly: I take the "oral communication" description to be broader than Dr. Browning does, in that any course offering "the analysis, comprehension, and interpretation of oral, written, and visual communication." would fit here -- perhaps the Visual Literacy class in Art? the Critical Thinking class in Phil (which studies "Patterns of reasoning encountered in everyday life, including advertising, editorials, and politics. Use of language in formulating arguments; differences between deductive and inductive arguments; how to detect and avoid mistakes in reasoning"). Perhaps "Visual Rhetoric and Culture" in Writing Studies? Maybe Oral Communication is a mis-naming which needs to evolve?

In other words, one hunk of text closes options by appearing to be Comm Studies-centric, but the subsequent paragraph seems to open the door. Some negotiation or clarification is sure to follow.

One more clarification: even under the current system, not all majors take Comp 31XX. Some majors offer equivalencies, including Philosophy. Presumably, under the new system, the same structure will hold. Or at least, I have heard nothing to the contrary. Only one composition course is at the bedrock of liberal education.

Exciting, again.

Thank you to all of those who have put forth the time and effort to review the current program and create the draft for the new.

The program appears to be very comprehensive and represents all hues of liberal education. I feel that I understand the program because I am a staff member (and advisor) with a number of years in. Perhaps you have some students working with you on the project, I cannot recall. I would be curious how they understand the draft. For faculty and staff to understand it and feel confident about it is one thing, for students to understand it is a different ball game. I imagine you will include a "test" of usability for students. Perhaps this is already in place.

I would encourage a simplification of the program and descriptions. For example, I would remove the Roman numerals and use a simple numbering system. I think subcategories can be confusing to students. Two courses from each category with different prefixes is helpful and is included.

I am a little concerned about the threads and how they would be measured. Would they be publicized to the student? I can appreciate why they exist and yet I wonder if we are trying to cover too much.

I believe that one of your goals is to communicate a clear and consistent message of how we define Liberal Education at UMD and I think that is important. We all need to be cognizant of our messages and be on the same page so that students get a unified message.

Again, thanks for your work.

I thought the forum on Wednesday was delightful. Great format allowing us to talk amongst ourselves and even meet some new people while weighing the merits of the proposed changes. I hope the committee found it to be a positive experience also.

Has anyone reflected on the conflation of math and science -- of empiricism and abstraction -- in the new requirements?


What if you just stopped with the 4 categories? I appreciate the sentiment behind the seven themes, but that has the look of something that's going to get really vague and incomprehensible very fast.

I'd further propose that departments only be allowed to list courses in one category. That way a student could take classes in the same department for at most 2 of their 8 lib ed classes.

For the writing category, I'd suggest that you just require freshman comp and then some other communication or writing class at the student's discretion (to be offered by whichever departments wish to commit to this category).

Give the students a simple framework of categories to follow, and let them discover and follow their own themes.

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