Friday, April 29, 2011

General Education & the Problem of Fragmentation

On Monday morning I attended a half-day meeting on my campus where, among other things, we discussed the General Education program at BYU and how to measure students' achievement of our GE learning outcomes.  To help us prepare for the meeting, we were provided with a document that outlined each of the learning outcomes, their rationale, and how the institution plans to measure them.  

In reviewing the document, one thing that became painfully clear to me was that the only direct evidence of the achievement of GE outcomes we collect are course-specific (e.g. writing samples from advanced writing courses, course assignments/projects, etc.).  I'm not suggesting that these artifacts would not tell us anything about what students are learning, but there seem to be at least two problems with relying solely upon course-specific evidence.  First, it flies in the face of the underlying philosophy of general education, namely that it should provide a holistic and integrated experience for students that runs across particular courses.  Second, it assumes that integration of core concepts and learning outcomes will somehow occur without any intentional or strategic effort on the part of the institution (or, that faculty members are designing assignments that ask students to make connections across courses and between disciplines).  

What BYU--and I'm guessing a lot of other campuses--needs to consider is whether the GE program is an isolated and fragmented set of learning outcomes, each of which can be measured independently of the others, or whether we are after more holistic and integrated growth for our students.  If it's the latter, then portfolios, captstone experiences, learning communities with shared assignments, and assessment plans that examine student work that arises from these deep learning experiences will become much more important to us than they are currently.

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