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June 30, 2008

April 2008 LETF Public Forum Comments/Notes

This document is a compilation of notes taken during the April Public Forum. About 50 members of the UMD campus community attended the forum. They were asked to join small groups to discuss five questions and members of the LE Task Force recorded the commentary. The Forum offered the opportunity for each person to join at least two different discussion groups. This Forum has led the Task Force into another revision process for the proposed General Education Program structure. A new draft of the Program structure will be presented in the Fall.

Question Number 1: Does the proposed program fit the goal of being flexible and streamlined while maintaining sufficient breadth?


Themes are a nice vision, awareness for course planning, creation. Nice conceptually, difficult for those teaching it.

Themes are almost a perfect match to the learner outcomes.

All the themes are wonderful, but not all equal in importance.

Are all the liberal ed objectives covered? Not collaboration, but then someone pointed out that Civic Engagement requires collaboration.

Part of this is to get faculty to look more at their courses and become more in-depth.

Great guide for faculty planning. There is a fear about communicating this, transferring it to the students and having it as a requirement.

Suggestion that we visit or talk to other programs that use themes.

Need to be sure we consider accreditation. And transfer issues.


Certainly flexible, but so much that it is not streamlined. The Categories are both flexible and streamlined, but the Themes are not. Programs are already doing many of the themes, but not all. Question was whether we could leave it up to the programs to implement the themes, but most programs could not satisfy ALL the themes (rough count was that most programs already cover about half of them, but not always the same half) – is that acceptable?

Flexibility: some categories have no stars, some are inundated. Some programs are cornering the market. Are these all going to be classes that are not totally early, survey, or pre-requisite courses?

It is valuable to broaden it to not be just the survey courses.

Some admitted ambivalence about the flexibility. Majors are so full – can’t get any more classes in. This is a good reason to build in flexibility. However, so much flexibility might undermine what lib ed is supposed to be. Maybe only those that are in the Categories should be truly lib ed.

Flexible and streamlined can be taken too far. Just take two courses from every college. Flexible, streamlined, probably not specified enough. This also ignores the fact that categories and themes are then not satisfied.

It is a lot easier to agree or disagree with something concrete.

Streamlined (implementation)

Overly complicated to implement. People envisioned a large number of lists: lists of all courses that count in each category; that count in each theme. Then, each program would have a list of what they recommend (or sometimes require) for their majors.

Will theme courses count even for non-majors? Would the same status apply to courses regardless of the major? One list for majors and one not?

Who will certify if the courses are acceptable for a theme? Needs to be campus-wide criteria for the courses, but could the programs then certify them (or do initial pass, with brief review by EPC)? This will require much discussion at the program level and a large amount of effort for certification, assuming that each program / department have to submit a whole list. More complicated because so many courses COULD qualify – since opened up to ALL courses.

Tracking could be an issue, as well as explaining it to the students. Tracking and explaining. It is already murky water, but the tracking part is not the big issue. Someone knowledgeable about APAS stated that APAS is the easiest part of the problem.

These needed to be stated as measurable objectives (that can be measured by a rubric). Create the objective, then develop the rubric. Basically, rubric-based criteria.

A few thought the program was too broad. Also, the themes are “apples and oranges�?. Creative expression is very different from historical perspective. Some are more related to process, some to content. Some more abstract than others. Some are higher priority than others, although not willing to decide for sure which are highest priority. Could they be grouped more? For example, require 2 courses in “Cultural competency�?, which includes both International and within U.S. (and not require one from each); and “Making the world a better place�?, which includes both civic engagement, environment.

Another thought on breadth is the question that if most of the themes are covered in your major, then are you actually achieving breadth? Could someone take all the themes in their major? It would not be going backwards from what we are doing now. However, a later comment was that learning about that in their major will help them gravitate towards that, and embrace it more fully. For example, students who might now say they are not interested in learning about international perspective in general, may find it more meaningful when tied to courses in their major.

Communication skills are needed, including by engineers. For now, accreditation accepts oral communications covered doing presentations in multiple courses throughout the major. If oral communications is a single course, faculty may omit those presentations later in the program.

Question #2 Effective Oral and Written Communication?

The various discussion groups agreed that there is an essential need for more writing instruction. UMD students are generally not prepared as they enter upper division classes where there is the expectation of advanced writing skills. The Writing program would love to see more writing through out the student’s career at UMD. There is a need for more writing instruction that is intentionally trying to achieve the learning outcomes related to communication skills.

One suggestion made was that Oral and Written instruction be an expectation for courses approved to satisfy the themes.

Some wondered if there should be a reading component in Category #1? They felt we should be more intentional about the need for reading assignments connected to communication with a focus on reading expository texts.

The Oral Communication category should include interpersonal relationships

Another suggestion had to do with the name of Category 1. One person suggested that it could be simply be titled Communication. Another suggested that it should be Written, Oral, and Interpersonal Communication. There was the suggestion that the current definition did not include interpersonal communication skills.

Could we introduce a practicum in Written and Oral communication? Making the writing assignments more “real world�? would help the student recognize the purpose of these skills.

How do we immediately identify ESL students and provide for their needs. It was stated by one person that these students are often overlooked early in their careers as needing special help in progressing toward mastery of writing and speaking English and this causes significant problems as they move forward in their academic career.

Someone felt that both definitions for Written and Oral are two department specific. Make all the categories open to all departments.

Where does the student get the discipline specific writing skills if not in the major? Perhaps the advanced writing course could be at the 2000 level rather than at the tail end of their career. It was observed that the Advanced Composition requirement is not truly “embedded�? in the major program. It is listed as a requirement but it is designed and delivered outside of the program. It was suggested that the WRIT 31xx could be a course designed and delivered by the programs.

The way that writing is learned is a long-term process, and the skills involved need to be repeated over and over again. Writing intensive courses should be happening through out the course of a four/five year career. Can we require that writing assignments happen all through the course of the students career both inside and outside of their major?

Can we add the need to include teaching writing in liberal education courses as criteria for promotion and tenure?

Should we continue to accept as transfer Freshman writing from all PSOE programs or community colleges?

Question Three: What is the most effective way to get liberal education integrated into the curriculum?

Many discussion groups brought up the issue of double dipping and how that would be handled. Can a student take one course that would satisfy 5 themes?

If a particular major course is deemed satisfactory in satisfying a theme or category does it mean that the major course has to be opened to the entire college?

Discussion groups agreed that being able to offer these classes in the major is a huge step forward in integration but then again the problem becomes who deems what is acceptable in terms of, do you cover a topic in one day and so on. By integrating gen ed into majors students would be able to see the importance and the relation.

Some thought the themes should be integrated into categories

Since liberal education is woven through all four/five years faculty will consider things that they haven’t considered in a while

It was suggested that programs should re-visit what they have, adding courses, offer more classes and combining things that may satisfy more than one need.
Many groups agreed that the faculty/staff need to be committed to this program in order for it to work and the instructor is going to be crucial

The instructor should:
• Link courses to cross teach
• Require reading
• And provide more connectedness to enable students to see the connections in real life

Curriculum coordination in the dept will become more critical than ever before. The faculty will need to agree on whose covering what and there will have to be agreement and follow through so that the faculty can understand it and deliver it.

It was stated that the fundamental question is have we simplified it since we now have 8 themes and all 10 categories are now covered in 4?

Themes add a complex layer to explain to the students. Suggested that the way it is represented should be easier for students to understand.

We should re-investigate how our curriculum currently addresses the issue of integrating a program in the curriculum.

A suggestion made by one participant was how a dept should review the curriculum with the themes in mind instead of an over arching committee and the only thing left would be the categories, the themes should be done by dept. We should rely on dept to make sure the themes line up. Others agreed that it seems more valuable to have the themes be viewed departmentally.

One suggestion was to have a list of courses under each theme that meet the requirements.

It was said that the program is very subjective, how do you quantify?
- How are we going to assess this, the measurable outcomes

Suggested that lib ed should be exposure to other topics outside of major
- two years of unrelated studies and then start major: have we moved away from that through this program

This program would be a great opportunity to create new courses, to collaborate with other colleagues from other departments. Our current system does not do this.

Offer capstone courses: integrating disciplines and goes through eight themes

Some thought more courses should address multiple themes with pedagogy and ideally you will get themes over and over again throughout 4 years.

Curriculum in classes should be changed to meet more of the themes
- The most effective way would be to look at courses and integrate in the themes
- Should be no limit on themes within a course, however, some thought there should be a limit.
- Various learning models, not taking a 1xxx level course as a senior
- Think outside of the box
- Pairing like English and math: comparing and showing how they can relate. English and math isn’t an obvious pairing…
- Some thought no themes should have designator
- Some thought there should be a designator, making it easier for grad planner and decision making strategy for students

QUESTION 4 A: What is the most effective way to integrate theme-based subjects into the proposed general education program? (Molly)

I felt that 4 themes emerged from the 3 group discussions:
I have applied the comments to the themes

• There was a suggestion that there be fewer guidelines
• It was stated that there are broad cultural themes…need for more explanation
• There was a questions about who will create the definitions of the themes
• There was a comment that criteria will be important
• There was a suggestion that we need to make sure there are no hidden pre-requisites
• It was suggested that there be a vote to approve the mission with consideration for how all of us integrate themes…
• It was suggested that the mission statement drive the pedagogy
• One person felt that there needs to be some mechanical accountability (structural)
• There needs to be very clear criteria to determine parameters for the theme and who will guide that process
• There was a suggestion that there needs to be a determination of how much content related to the theme needs to be imbedded in a course in order for it to meet the criteria
• It was pointed out that there needs to be real world applications…we need to think about who the experts are and what their training is.
• It was suggested that each department have an ad hoc committee to oversee the theme alignment and implementation
• There was a question about whether the themes should be met within the major or not
• It was suggested that only a set number of courses can meet the theme requirement

• It was suggested that departments are the place where it is decided whether or not the themes are met
• The question then was raised…do we take the word of the department
• It was suggested that as resources follow course (theme) development there could be mischief
• There was a suggestion that there needs to be criteria for the qualification of the courses that meet themes
• It was suggested that the process of the course alignment with the themes be established by having programs align course with a system similar to the accreditation processes
• It was suggested that courses be pre-approved.
• Input from faculty was requested
• It was suggested that faculty use the course guide format to process theme content.
• A checklist to determine theme criteria was suggested
• It was suggested that faculty go back to their programs and look at what they are already doing related to the themes
• The need for faculty buy-in was stated
• A tool “sniff test�? was suggested for aligning courses
• It was suggested that task force members meet with departments to help with the new process
• It was suggested that a committee be used to determine theme qualifications

• A need for accountability was suggested due to the opportunity for mischief
• A need for quality control was suggested
• A need to monitor the depth and quality of theme courses was discussed
• Evaluation guidelines were recommended
• It was proposed that an accountability source be created for programs to follow
• It was suggested that documentation is needed for proof that the theme meets the criteria

• Technology was identified as missing
• It was suggested that we might get tied up in the mission statement and pedagogy
• One person thought that some of the themes were subjects and some were not
• There was a suggestion to change the word subject to content “We don’t want students talking about content we want it applied�?
• A need to broaden diversity in the US to global diversity was mentioned
• Interpersonal collaboration was missing according to one person

QUESTION 4 B: What is the most effective way to integrate theme-based subjects into the proposed general education program? (Michael)

In addition to exploring the extremes of the (for us) well-worn dialectical tension between breadth and flexibility I found that many of the comments, questions and debates sort of fit into the following categories (oops, I mean themes, uh, I mean issue areas)

-How much is required to satisfy themes? (too burdensome or too easy) Do we need quantification (determine how much course time goes to a given theme)?

-Two Extremes Explored: themes as thick/detailed (burdensome?) versus thin/simpler (lib ed lite?)

-Too Many! Combine/collapse themes to make more do-able?

-Choose/select themes? (select x of y). Makes easier to implement/satisfy requirements

-If allow selecting just some themes may defeat purpose (select out what unfamiliar with/afraid of)

-Double Dipping & Two Possible Extremes:
Allow course to satisfy 5-6 themes simultaneously (if we do this, then what is the point of themes?)

Limit double dipping (to one theme only? then would double number of courses needed for gen eds, and this is not workable)?

-As written, categories look really easy to satisfy (i.e. all math and sci courses offered would fit category 2?), while the themes look harder to satisfy.

-Do we even need to review courses for cats 2-4?

-Even if cat 2-4 = easy hurdles, themes still = some limits & enforce breadth.

-Is historical theme as valuable as a history category course?

-Why not keep the categories and lose the themes? Dean Krug like the 4 category model most, and thinks themes may be unwieldly (b/c multiple levels, etc.). Themes seem to be proliferating?

-Themes not adequate perhaps? Lib ed lite = a key phrase heard again. Should force students out of their comfort zone/career track?

THEMES & “FEDERALISM�? (University vs. College vs. Major/Program)
-Some committee must evaluate each course? Who/how?

-Who decides?
-University b/c of transfer issues (like EPC lib ed sbcm), or b/c of issues of objectivity, neutrality and consistency.

-Dept would be too easy and try to force courses to fit into themes.

-How deal with transfers if colleges determine themes? (for instance, CSE theme equivalent to CLA)

-Academic freedom. Who defines course content? Themes restrict faculty autonomy (good OR bad? both?)

-Need good coordination at all levels/units (dept-college-university, etc.)

-Themes in the Major or force to do it outside? That is the question?

-Not a burden b/c some programs already cover themes. But others may not (engineering?)
-Some progs naturally satisfy mult themes, others have few naturally associated.

-Most programs already cover many of these themes.

-Satisfy themes both within and without major (not just one or the other).

-If themes in major programs, will not get breadth/roundedness. If embed themes too deeply in majors, the point is missed?

-Require only so many courses within a major can count to themes? Or limit each department to a particular theme (or themes)?

-Themes harder to implement – faculty within program must agree (if teach same course), and must buy into integrating the themes generally.

-How combat perception that courses in major more important?

-Grad planner and integrating themes into that, to help students plan and graduate on time (requires temporal continuity to themes so student plan can work)

-Make process as open as possible so students can learn what want, not what is available/left over.

-If transfer majors or schools, will not have prereqs to get theme courses in that area (if prereqs allowed). May take longer to graduate (what if take lower level prereq course, but later need higher level prereq)??

-Do categories make it harder to graduate on time?

-Will students recognize the themes in the courses? Will they be visible enough to students?

-Perhaps we ought to explain lib education’s importance to students better so do not perceive jumping though hoops.

-Advising = key to navigating gen ed system, can prevent the above student problems (transferring, etc.).

- Curricular Bottlenecks result? Identify and anticipate bottlenecks: some themes get less courses? (then = more demand for that?)

-Need coordination between levels to prevent bottlenecks, etc..

-Define category reqs as courses or credits?

-Prereqs allowed? (this makes themes extra complicated for students – bottlenecks)

-How related to course development, etc.? (would we need to recruit more theme courses in some cases? How make sure the supply of courses meets demand?)

- How guarantee consistency of themes (despite different teachers for one course, or between different colleges)? How enforce consistency? Ought to?

-How assess?

-How define/specify themes? Pick 15 random courses from catalog and see if task force can identify which theme(s) the courses might fit under? (test hypothesis that these themes really actually exist submerged throughout our programs)

-Task force make language then test it by letting other faculty (test subjects?) try to implement/apply definitions (like a dry run, to test and anticipate problems)

Question #5 Does the proposed program fulfill the LE Mission Statement, especially with regards to skills?

How does what we have not fulfill the mission statement?
Oral – important, incorporate in the current courses and major.
Every discipline is diff – and how oral communication is delivered differs
Busi Comm – is a great example because it relates to the discipline and is applicable to the field

Written – UMD should consider having a written component outside the Writing Studies Dept.
- concern with the loss of being well-rounded
- lab reports vs written thorough reports/evaluations
- Freshmen comp – is fine as is
- Comp 31xx – is tailored to the discipline, but could even be better

Concern with categories 9 & 10 and others may get lost in the mix/selection.

Measurement of the three components in the mission statement –
Aware – easy to measure
Prepared –
Committed – how to measure? Can we get this? Require internships, service learning, leadership opportunities within each dept. How do you measure or track this?
Duluth community is small and may not be accommodating or able to handle this.

Agree that the new Statement fulfills the goals, but will it be less flexible.

SKILLS are lacking in the current program. What are the skills learned in this class?

NO – how will students know if the LE program was done effectively or not? How is it measured?

Cultural diversity sensitivity is being glossed over (currently). There is no depth or understanding to cultural diversity.

Real life situation and issues are not addressed. Broaden the perspectives outside the classroom. More depth of themes needs to be woven more – applied.

Courses need to be written to be able to have measurable outcomes. Intense undertaking to have any course be re-written to truly satisfy the LE program.

On-going statement from students: How does this apply to me? For students to understand and respect the value and purpose of the LE mission statement and program. The relevance of the course to real life situations is important. Student focused rather than covering content in the course.

It is very difficult to weave LE into every LE course OR UMD course. How can/will this be done?

How to get faculty on board? Faculty like their content, but how do you make them revamp their current delivery of courses….not allow them to count their course as LE until they are revamped?

‘LE is wasted on the young.’ (The respect of it is not seen until years later.)

Not every course has to fulfill the mission statement…object to the vocational nature of the mission statement. Listed occupation and vocational twice in the statement…implies the delivery of LE will be this way. (second sentence for the mission statement of GREAT concern)

When you get an education it is the person who is getting educated..abstract thinking, cognitive thinking, etc. FOR example, the depts should inform students about what professions they can move on to after school not LE. Depts need to think of more ways to inform their students about careers/skills.

It depends…the skills are more pedagogy rather than a structure you proposed.

There is some overlapping in the themes.

Goals – opposed to ones that are untestable. Providing proof that a course fulfills the objectives will be difficult to gauge. Grades, completion of major/minor are proof. Exposure to or awareness may be an avenue to consider.
Surveys – follow-up done on graduates would be one form of measurement.

Mixing of words – General vs Liberal Education Program. Defining each directly needs to be done.

Why have Liberal Educ and Student Outcomes? The new proposal replaces the current LE program.

The new DRAFT lists ‘prepared’ as the most likely way to measure skills and measurement.


MISSION STATEMENT – There is concern with the impression on the vocational nature of the mission statement. There is concern with the implication that our LE program will be delivered in a vocational nature.

MEASUREMENT of the skills is the main issue.

PEDAGOGY is of great concern..how the courses are delivered matters. The time it takes to re-design and incorporate new elements is of concern.