Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education

News - Provost Approves Gen Ed Report

Dec. 18, 2009

CONTACT:  Beverly Makhani, Communications Director, Office of Undergraduate Education, 509-335-6679, makhani@wsu.edu
Mary F. Wack, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, 509-335-8044, mwack@wsu.edu

Gen Ed Report Approved

Revamp must be transparent, emphasize outcomes

PULLMAN, Wash.—The general education visioning committee report calling for a redesigned general education program has been approved by Warwick M. Bayly, WSU provost and executive vice president. Implementation of the new program would begin in fall 2011 and continue over the next year or two.


Broad discussion of the report in spring semester will give the WSU community the opportunity to consider what is fundamentally important to a 21st-century education, said Mary Wack, vice provost for undergraduate education.

“It’s a great opportunity to rethink how general education and the major are related, and how we can better help students develop critical skills and knowledge through all four years in a deliberate and coherent way,” she said.
 
The report will be distributed widely to the general education committee, the Teaching Academy and various other working groups that will help spearhead the next phase of the process, Wack said. The full report also will be posted online.

The 51-page report fulfills a charge the provost gave the visioning committee in October 2008 to “provide a basis for direction and strategy for general education” at WSU.

According to the report, three fundamental issues must be addressed: an outdated budgeting system; widespread lack of knowledge about the nature, purpose and structure of general education; and a focus on outcomes rather than course-counting.
 
Carol Ivory, WSU fine arts professor and chair of the visioning committee, said it looked hard at WSU’s general education program and did extensive research into model programs both nationally and internationally. Based on that research, the committee made general recommendations, she said, but not specific proposals.
 
“What we felt we needed to do is get the message out about the importance of gen ed and the issues that need to be thought about,” she said. Any new plan must be developed with the full participation of all stakeholders, she said, including students, faculty, staff and administration.

For instance, she said, colleges and departments use the general education program in very different ways, with some majors specifying which general education courses must be completed and others allowing much more flexibility.
 
“Balancing all of those different issues is going to be tricky,” she said.
WSU Vancouver professor of management Thomas Tripp, a member of the visioning committee and chair of the general education committee, agreed that the process must be collaborative and transparent.
 
“Having a process that most people can buy into is really important,” he said. “I think we can create that process.”
 
While the structure and the curricula are yet to be determined, Tripp said the visioning committee did feel strongly that general education at WSU must focus more on helping students acquire specific learning outcomes, whether those are the Six Learning Goals of the Baccalaureate or another set of learning goals.
 
National accrediting bodies are demanding more accountability for outcomes-based learning, he said, and WSU must continue to move in that direction.
 
“Everything in undergraduate education rests upon a solid general education,” he said. “It is the bedrock.”
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