General Education Task Force
Minutes - April 16, 2004
Present : Cisar, Larson, Hoekstra, Booth, Beld, and Paddy Dale (visitor)
1. Meeting convened by Mary Cisar at 8:00.
2. The Task Force heard reports from Jo Beld and Paddy Dale on the proceedings of a conference on General Education sponsored by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U).
3. Summary of Paddy Dale's report:
Proceedings of the conference suggest a paradigm shift in the academy's understandings of the production of knowledge and, consequently, of what would constitute effective general education. Where the work of the academy has until recently been understood primarily as "research, teaching, and service, many institutions now understand that work to consist primarily in "discovery, learning, and engagement. Effective general education, mirroring this development in the academy, must involve (1) interdisciplinary study and (2) experiential learning. As evidence of the paradigm shift, Paddy pointed to the current state of research in the sciences, where lines between disciplines blur. And he pointed to the conception of experiential learning as "learning that integrates theory and practice with reflection. Paddy suggested that "the nature of knowledge production and the nature of learning are changing; to stand still is to fall behind.
Committee members discussed the extent to which St. Olaf's GE is already interdisciplinary and experiential, and the extent to which it is determined by traditional disciplinary boundaries. Members identified tensions between administrative structures, curricular structures, and the concept of knowledge production Paddy described.
Booth stated that the Paracollege had offered a curriculum that aspired to be interdisciplinary, learner-centered, and experiential. Task force members agreed to consult proposals for GE that were developed by Paracollege faculty in the last year of its existence.
Paddy described two funding opportunities:
SENSER Awards, jointly sponsored by NSF and AAC&U to support interdisciplinary projects involving the natural and social sciences.
Grants offered by the National Council on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) to fund undergraduate research projects with an emphasis on interdisciplinary work.
4. Summary of Jo Beld's report:
Jo addressed four topics.
A. On the strength of her experiences at the conference, Jo reaffirmed her belief in the value of two assessment projects already in progress at St. Olaf: (1) the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and (2) the use of some instrument to determine a baseline for understanding students' development of critical thinking.
Jo reported that conference presenters emphasized the importance of student engagement as a condition for the acquisition, retention, and use of knowledge. NSSE can help us determine whether our GE promotes engagement.
And Jo described with appreciation an address by Diane Halpern (Professor of Psychology at Claremont McKenna College and past president of the American Psychological Association), whom Jo described as a leading light in the science of learning. Jo indicated that any study of critical thinking among St. Olaf students might follow patterns suggested by Halpern's work.
B. Jo stated that conference proceedings reinforced the desirability of interpreting GE from the standpoint of learner outcomes. She described the practice of some institutions of requiring that all GE offerings be re-certified from time to time on the basis of evidence collected by faculty to demonstrate that students are achieving agreed upon learning goals. Jo advocated the use of some simple instruments to assess student achievement of learning objectives for each St. Olaf GE requirement.
C. Jo identified "integrative thinking as a distinctive, tacit goal of St. Olaf GE. She proposed that students are invited to cultivate integrative thinking through diverse curricular strategies including (1) course sequences (like the St. Olaf "Conversations); (2) annual themes (like vocation); and (3) common proficiencies pursued across the curriculum (like FLAC, ORC, EIN).
D. Jo reported the conference reinforced the appropriateness of St. Olaf's current commitment to assessment strategies that are "mission-driven, manageable, and meaningful, where "improvement, not accountability is the goal.
5. Meeting adjourned at 9:04.