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Integrative learning key to new gen ed program

Andrew Stott, left, presents an overview of the proposed general education curriculum. Seated at the table are members of the steering committee who chair working groups on individual components of the curriculum. Photo: Nancy J. Parisi

By SARA R. SALDI

Published September 18, 2014

“It will take a lot of faculty will to make this happen, but our commitment is solid.”
Provost Charles F. Zukoski

What might the student experience at UB be like if, say, dance majors also are encouraged to study physics in order to better understand the movement of their body through space?

This example illustrates what the new general education curriculum would call an “integrative cluster.”

Most of the seats in 105 Harriman were taken Tuesday afternoon when Andrew Stott, dean of undergraduate education, chair of the General Education Committee and facilitator of the first of two open forums to collect feedback on a proposal for a restructured gen ed curriculum, took to the podium to begin a brief overview of what gen ed has been at UB and how it will change in the upcoming years.

Also in attendance at the forum were Provost Charles F. Zukoski and members of the General Education Steering Committee who worked on individual elements of the program.

Stott stated at the outset that the new gen ed curriculum was designed to be “distinctive and unapologetically student-centered.”

He outlined the process, which began in 2009 when President Tripathi was provost and ultimately has resulted in the Progress Report of the General Education Committee.

Stott also discussed how research into the new program involved the review of other AAU universities’ best practices in general education, as well as those of some of UB’s key competitors.

Gen ed, in its current form at UB, has existed for the past 20 years and done well, Stott noted, but it has “run out of steam” and has not been subjected to evaluation.

“Some of the issues have been lack of a coherent process, no faculty oversight, too many exemptions and waivers, challenges to being assessed and student indifference,” he said.

Also, he said, the recent Middle States reaccreditation mandated that UB proceed with a gen ed revision and that the university must teach ethical reasoning.

Stott then presented the proposed program’s design principles: complementing and enhancing the mission of UB, clarity of purpose, common intellectual experiences, integrative learning, global and diversity learning, comprehensive offerings and authentic assessment.

Of these, the principle that received the most emphasis and seemed to be a foundational principal to the proposed curriculum was integrative learning.

Stott described integrative learning in the ideal gen ed experience as one where a student would explore, through coursework, that which interested him/her most and from a number of perspectives. These fields of interest then would be woven together to elicit a greater depth of critical thinking than would be achieved by pursuing discreet areas of study with no connections made by students or faculty.

He said that through this process, the interconnectedness of coursework, life, local community and global community would be pulled together in the student’s mind and encouraged by his faculty advisers. In this way, UB graduates not just students with a major, but citizens of the world, he said.

Stott then introduced the program itself and the individual elements were presented by the chairs of the steering committee working groups. The elements are the first-year seminar or transfer seminar, communication literacy, scientific literacy and inquiry, math and quantitative reasoning, thematic and global integrative clusters, and the integrative capstone.

Each working group chair affirmed the desire for all of the individual elements to reach across disciplines and cultures.

Peter Horvath, associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences and chair of the Scientific Literacy and Inquiry Working Group, said this concept ideally should reach across domains.

“For instance, a course of study goes from a micro level, like physics, to a human level and then to a global level — an understanding that encompasses multi-dimensions,” said Horvath.

There was also discussion of how the math requirement would be satisfied. In the past, basic courses that include algebra and trigonometry fulfilled the obligation. But the working group determined that since those subjects actually are covered in high school math courses, a course that goes beyond that would be needed to meet the requirement.

Zukoski then addressed the forum, noting how proud he was of the work done by Stott’s committee and that his office will dedicate $3 million annually to the new program.

“It will take a lot of faculty will to make this happen, but our commitment is solid,” he said.

After the presentations, the forum was opened to questions. One audience member asked how many faculty members would be needed to teach the first-year seminar. Stott said 140 sections were being planned.

Other attendees asked about implementation of the integrative clusters — who would implement them, who would suggest them and what would the oversight entail.

The issue is to be worked out in the upcoming year, according to Stott.

Members of the UB community who were unable to attend Tuesday’s forum in Harriman Hall are urged to attend the second open forum, to be held from 1-3 p.m. Sept. 19 in the Screening Room in the Center for the Arts, North Campus. The forums are being videotaped and will be posted online for those unable to attend either session. Feedback also may be provided online.

The Progress Report of the General Education Committee and a FAQ on the proposed curriculum are available on the Provost’s website.