General Education 1998 Rationale and Curriculum

I. WHY CHANGE GENERAL EDUCATION? The SUNY Oswego General Education is intended to help students grow and mature as learners, learn to think critically and solve problems, clarify their values, and increase their knowledge of the world and of themselves. Through General Education, the College and its faculty are trying to encourage students to become life-long learners and active, productive, and involved citizens able to participate effectively in a complex society. Because society changes, a General Education curriculum must respond to these changes. Therefore, the curriculum must be reviewed and evaluated regularly for clarity, coherence, currency, and emphasis. This evaluation must be open, honest, and as free from self-interest as possible. General Education exists for the sake of our students.

The current General Education program, approved in 1979, has not had a full review and evaluation since its inception; individual courses have been given only an initial review as they have proliferated. The 1990 addition of Human Diversity requirements reflects a new component embraced in the last decade and mirrors changes in society and in other colleges across the country. Today, students often view Oswego's General Education courses as impositions in their progress toward a major, rather than as opportunities for intellectual growth. Many students see little connection between General Education courses and those related to their career aspirations.

In the early 1990s, the level of faculty and student dissatisfaction on our campus with General Education began to rise, with concerns raised about its complexity and lack of cohesion. Calls for change were being made by faculty, students, and key academic leaders. Moreover, the most recent Middle States accreditation review (1992), while noting "the faculty's strong conceptual commitment to general education," also commented that the review team heard "frequent comments that the [General Education] program's apparent simplicity masks a complexity of design which frequently stymies both students and advisors who are attempting to keep track of special provisos and arcane rules" (p.9).

To test assertions about the need for change, in the Spring of 1992, the General Education Board surveyed all faculty and professional staff, soliciting feedback on all aspects of the program. The returns indicated both desire and commitment to proceed toward revision. On May 18-20, 1992 a group of over 45 faculty met to consider the current status and future directions of General Education at Oswego. The conference included reviews and discussions of General Education programs at a variety of institutions across the country. Faculty expressed dissatisfaction with aspects of General Education, concerned about both content and process. The group concluded that the program needed major modifications. A consensus emerged that the accumulation of changes that had been made in the program over the years had resulted in a General Education curriculum that is cumbersome and too complex. With all this in mind, the General Education Board set out to revise SUNY Oswego's General Education Program. During the summer of 1995, the General Education Board met in nine 2-hour sessions with department chairs to discuss and debate the proposal that preceded this one. Finally, when the proposal dated 7 September 1995 was submitted to the Faculty Assembly in October, 1995, faculty were invited to provide additional input on it to the Academic Policies Council, which then conveyed its concerns to the General Education Board. The program described here, as amended by the General Education Board and subsequently by Faculty Assembly, is the result.

II. GENERAL EDUCATION TODAY Perhaps the clearest statement of the status of general education across the country is found in the 1994 monograph, Strong Foundations: Twelve Principles for Effective General Education Programs, produced by the Association of American Colleges' Project on Strong Foundations for General Education. In it, the project participants assert:

A new concept is emerging from conversations among faculties about the qualities of an educated person and the redesign of their curricula. One after another, college faculties are concluding that general education must be much more than breadth and simple exposure to different fields of study. Collectively they are deciding that students should: receive a generous orientation to the intellectual expectations, curricular rationale, and learning resources of the institution; acquire specific skills of thought and expression, such as critical thinking and writing, that should be learned across the curriculum and embedded within several courses; learn about another culture and the diversity that exists within our own culture in terms of gender, race, ethnic background, class, age, and religion; integrate ideas from across disciplines to illuminate interdisciplinary themes, issues, or social problems; study some subjects beyond their majors at advanced, not just introductory levels; have an opportunity near the end of their course of study to pull together their learning in a senior seminar or project; and experience a coherent course of study, one that is more than the sum of its parts.

Surely, study of various disciplines is important, but this increasingly is seen as a minimalist definition that is not sufficiently rigorous for the demands that students will face in their lifetimes. A more robust concept is needed to raise the quality, stature, and frankly, the value of general education (pp. iii-iv).

The Board of General Education believes that the AAC's statements succinctly reflect the concerns that SUNY Oswego's faculty have expressed to us, both in 1992, at the inception of this revision, in 1995, at a series of public forums on an earlier version of this document, and again in 1995 at meetings with the department chairs. What follows are the Board's recommendations for a revised General Education curriculum.

The curriculum includes new Basic Skills requirements in critical thinking and computer literacy; redefined Knowledge Foundations requirements; upper-division, interdisciplinary, issue-based courses; and expanded advanced-writing requirement; and a refocused Human Diversity requirement.

III. GENERAL EDUCATION CURRICULUM Rationale Higher education should offer students both breadth and depth: that is, introductory exposure to a wide variety of approaches to knowledge, and the opportunity to explore a single field in some detail. A General Education program provides the former; a major provides the latter. Thus, the purpose of General Education at SUNY Oswego is to introduce students to a range of disciplines, to help them learn to think critically and solve problems, clarify their values, and increase their knowledge of the world and of themselves, and to help them grow and mature as learners. In other words, General Education helps students develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that will allow them to succeed in college, pursue a major, and form the foundation for life-long learning, by helping them acquire:

  • effective written communication skills;
  • analytical and critical inquiry skills by which to understand complex issues;
  • an understanding of the fundamental principles of natural science and the character of the natural world;
  • historical, literary, and artistic understandings of the world;
  • knowledge of the social forces that shape individuals, groups, and societies over time;
  • the enhanced ability to work intelligently and cooperatively with others in a diverse world.

The proposed General Education program, developed below, has 3 central components: Basic Skills, Knowledge Foundations, and Intellectual Issues (as well as Human Diversity and Advanced Expository Writing). To the fullest extent possible, the Board of General Education intends that these components be hierarchical: that the Foundations courses build on the Basic Skills, and that the Intellectual Issues courses build on the Knowledge Foundations. In other words, it is reasonable to expect that students who take a Knowledge Foundations course display competence in those Basic Skills areas that faculty deem appropriate for that Foundations course, and that students who take an Intellectual Issues course have passed courses in those Knowledge Foundations areas that faculty deem appropriate for that Issues course.

Proposed General Education Curriculum A. Basic Skills: Basic Skills are fundamental college-level skills that students need to succeed in a variety of other college courses. Students may have already acquired these skills before entering SUNY Oswego, from Advanced Placement work, from courses at other colleges, or in similar ways. Students who do demonstrate their competence in any Basic Skills area may place out of it.

1. Writing: Courses in this area will develop students' ability to present their ideas and information in a clear, effective manner, and to use the organizational processes of writing as a heuristic for discovery and invention. Students will develop expository writing skills to be used within the context of their special areas of interest and expertise.

2. Computer Literacy: Courses in this area will develop students' ability to use computer hardware and software, such as a word processor, a spreadsheet, a database, communications, multi-media, and text/graphics management. Students will also understand the capabilities of computer technology, as well as current and evolving developments within their own areas of interest.

3. Critical Thinking: The General Education Board understands critical thinking to mean the ability to evaluate the assumptions, evidence, and inferences of what one reads and the ability to present one's ideas in a sound, logical, and thorough argument. While the Board hopes that there are elements of critical thinking in every course on campus, we recognize that, just as many students need a basic writing course specifically to teach them how to construct a strong essay, they also need a critical thinking course specifically to teach them how to construct a strong argument. Therefore, courses in Critical Thinking will develop students' ability to assess claims and make judgments on the basis of reasons, to understand the principles governing the forces of those reasons, and to become familiar with rules of inference and evidence. Students will come to understand the structures that underlie all reasoning and information, including the question-at-issue, assumptions, inferences, concepts, empirical verification, consequences, and alternative viewpoints.

Basic Skills Requirements. Students are required to display competence in EACH of the following areas: Writing (0-3 credits); Computer Literacy (0-3 credits); Critical Thinking (0-3 credits); 0-9 credits in all. Students may be exempt from one or more of the above requirements through competency testing or with appropriate Advance Placement credits.

B. Knowledge Foundations: The purpose of Knowledge Foundations courses is to expose students to a breadth of knowledge through the exploration of a range of disciplines at the introductory level. Knowledge Foundations courses are intended to introduce students to the basic content, methodology, and modes of analysis/inquiry of the disciplines. Students majoring, minoring, or concentrating in any of the five areas are assumed to have met that area's requirement and are waived out of that one area. Business majors are exempt from the Social and Behavioral Sciences requirement; Education majors are exempt from the area of their concentrate. Specifically, students should have such knowledge in the following areas of the curriculum:

1. Fine and Performing Arts: Courses in this area will cultivate both the cognitive and affective aspects of the human mind. Students will study significant works of the intellect and imagination, and may actively participate in individual aesthetic and creative experiences.

2. Humanities: Courses in this area will define the modes of inquiry specific to the disciplines of philosophy, literary study, history, modern language study, and rhetoric. The courses may focus on primary texts and sources, significant examples of philosophy, literary and rhetorical interpretation and analysis, and/or historical narrative.

3. Mathematics: Courses in this area will develop the students' ability to read critically the technical and statistical information that pervades contemporary society. Students will develop a strong conceptual understanding and appreciation of the power of mathematics. The major goal is to make the student competent to use numerical and graphical data in personal and professional judgments and in thinking critically about public issues. NOTE: Students must demonstrate basic proficiency in mathematics prior to registering for any math course numbered 102 or above. Proficiency may be demonstrated by any one of the following: (1) a score of 80 or higher on the NYS Sequential II Regents Exam or an equivalent grade in a second high school mathematics course at this level, (2) a transfer grade of C or higher in a course equivalent to MAT 104, or higher level at another institution, (3) pass a mathematics competency exam approved by the Mathematics Department, or (4) successful completion of MAX 100.

4. Natural Sciences: Courses in this area will focus on basic concepts, emphasizing the nature of the biological sciences, chemistry, the earth sciences, or physics. The desired result is a framework of skills and attitudes that permits one to understand the fundamental principles of natural science. Students will be able to make informed judgments on issues that affect the community, the nation, and the world; to think critically about what the media state about science and technology issues; and to make informed decisions that require gathering data, reading appropriate material, asking questions, and being able to distinguish scientific fact from opinion.

5. Social and Behavioral Sciences: Courses in this area will be designed to develop the capacity to engage in logical thinking and to read critically in the social and behavioral sciences. Students will develop a knowledge of the key concepts, perspectives, and analyses offered by social and behavioral scientists.

Knowledge Foundations Requirements. Students are required to take 3-6 credits (as indicated) in the following areas: Fine and Performing Arts (3 credits); Humanities (6 credits); Mathematics (3 credits); Natural Sciences (6 credits); Social and Behavioral Sciences (6 credits). Students are exempt from the area of their major, minor, or concentrate, for a total of 18-21 credits in most cases.

NB: In the interest of breadth, where 6 hours is indicated in a Knowledge Foundations area, students must take courses from 2 different disciplines. (Different disciplines have different course prefixes in the College Catalog and in the Course Newspaper.) In the Natural Sciences, students must take courses in two of the following areas: Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Earth Sciences, and Physics. The exception to the 2-discipline/2-area rule is Modern Languages, where 2 courses in a single foreign language conducted at the intermediate level or higher may be used to fulfill the Humanities requirement.The General Education Board will approve courses to meet the Knowledge Foundations requirements.

C. Intellectual Issues courses will investigate the multi-disciplinary and interpretative nature of intellectual inquiry, building upon students' skills, abilities and knowledge foundations. These courses are also intended to produce additional writing experiences and depth of knowledge, by engaging students as active learners and by challenging them to think analytically and creatively. The Intellectual Issues topics listed below are subject to change over time, as the faculty deem appropriate. Intellectual Issues courses are theme-based, 3-credit, upper-division courses centered on one of the areas defined below and bringing multiple perspectives to bear on those issues. Students are required to take two courses (see below).

1. Cultures and Civilizations: The goal is to understand and appreciate the expression of human ideas. Upon completion, the student should be able to recognize the significant achievements of the human intellect and imagination; the relationship between the expression of ideas and culture; and the historical context of ideas and human achievement. Courses will focus on topics that explore an expression of human ideas over time.

2. Explorations in the Natural Sciences: The goal is to provide students with an upper-division, multidisciplinary experience in the natural sciences that will increase students' understanding of natural science principles, scientific research methods, applications of natural science research and technology, and interactions between science, technology, and society.

3. Self and Society: The goal is to understand and appreciate the relationship of individuals to each other in social and cultural groups and the influence of social, political, and economic institutions on individuals and society. Upon completion the student should be able to recognize roles of people and the physical environment in shaping culture and society; conflicts of interest and values involved in translating knowledge into social action; and mechanisms people employ to change and modify their own behavior, values, and attitudes as well as those of other people. Courses will focus on topics dealing with the individual in relation to a larger group.

Intellectual Issues Requirements. Students are required to take at least one course in Explorations in the Natural Sciences (3 credits) and one course in either Cultures and Civilizations or Self and Society (3 credits) for a total of 6 credits.

D. Human Diversity: Students will be required to complete, as part of their degree program, General Education-approved courses or their approved equivalent (e. g., certain overseas study programs, designated internships, and student teaching placements) from each of the areas below, specifically one course on Tolerance and Intolerance and one course on Global, International, and Geographical Awareness . Any department may propose courses to meet the Diversity requirement.

1. Tolerance and Intolerance in the United States: These courses directly address such issues as tolerance and intolerance, equality and discrimination, freedom and restraint, and justice and injustice; and they encourage student awareness and understanding of the many dimensions of diversity in American life.

2. Global, International, and Geographical Awareness: These courses directly address similarities and differences in diverse cultures, the recognition of our world as an interdependent global community, and the awareness of divergent cultural differences and divergent perspectives; or increase student understanding and knowledge of the culture, values, and history of people of a specific geographical region outside the United States.

Human Diversity Requirements. Students are required to take at least one course in EACH of the following areas: 1. Tolerance and Intolerance in the United States (3 credits) 2. Global, International, and Geographical Awareness (3 credits) for a total of 6 credits.

E. Advanced Expository Writing: Recognizing that a single required course cannot, in and of itself, produce graduates who communicate confidently and effectively in writing, the required basic competence in writing (III.A.1) will be followed by a program of writing throughout the curriculum. The curriculum should ensure that students write frequently. The faculty of each major will submit to the Writing-across-the-Curriculum Steering Committee a plan, specifying at least five courses, which will demonstrate how the students in their major will meet the goal of enhancing their writing and research skills. Such courses should help students attain proficiency in advanced college-level writing, including the reading and writing of articles, essays, proposals, and reports dealing with issues and concepts both broadly conceived and narrowly focused.

Advanced Writing Requirements Student are required to take at least five courses that include a writing experience beyond the Basic Skills course. This requirement may be met with courses that meet other General Education or major requirements. The faculty of each major will determine which courses satisfy this requirement. Students who transfer to SUNY Oswego with 60 or more credits are exempt from any lower-division writing courses required for their major, but are required to take any upper-division writing courses required for their major.

IV. ASSESSMENT AND EVALUATION Proposals for General Education courses must indicate how faculty will assess the degree to which students have achieved the desired goals and objectives of the course. Methods for this will vary according to discipline and instructor, but should provide the instructor an indication of teaching and learning proficiency. Examples of assessment methods include, but are not limited to: examinations, portfolios, research papers, pre- and post-tests, taped student presentations or performances, demonstration of specified skills, collaborative projects, and instructor- and/or student-generated questionnaires.

The General Education Board will establish a process and a timetable for the evaluation of all General Education courses, to determine whether or not they satisfy all applicable General Education criteria, as described in Section III.A through III.E above. For example, new courses might be reviewed after the second semester of instruction, and all courses reviewed every third year.

V. IMPLEMENTATION The Board of General Education recognizes that there will be a delay between the passage of this program and its full implementation. New courses will need to be designed and put into place Ñ for example, in the Intellectual Issues area Ñ and some existing courses will require redesign. Therefore, we suggest that the College begin full implementation of the new curriculum for students who enter in the Fall of 1998, either as first-year students or as transfers. This timetable is, of course, open to change, as it is contingent on approval of this proposal, on the availability of resources, and support for an expeditious implementation ( see IMPLEMENTATION).

Effective Dates: 1. All students entering SUNY Oswego in Fall 1998 and thereafter, either as first-year students or as transfers, will be held to these requirements.

2. Those who enter SUNY Oswego as transfer students with AA or AS degrees granted by institutions with which Oswego has a general articulation agreement will be assumed to have completed the requirements for Sections III.A and B. They will be expected to complete any unmet requirements listed in III. C, D, and E.

Steering Committees: The Board of General Education will appoint ad hoc faculty steering committees to expedite the development of courses as described in #1, #2, and #3 immediately below. The steering committees will serve as advisors to instructors developing courses, will recommend to the Board of General Education appropriate action regarding acceptance of courses, and will recommend revisions or modifications of courses and/or requirements in their area.

1. The Critical Thinking Steering Committee will be composed of one representative from each of the sub-divisions of the College of Arts and Sciences, two representatives of the School of Education, and one representative of the School of Business. They shall review departmental plans for meeting the Critical Thinking component of the General Education curriculum, recommend to the Board appropriate action regarding each department's plan, and make suggestions for revisions or modifications of courses and/or requirements in Critical Thinking, and serve as advisors to departments and instructors developing critical thinking strategies within content areas.

2. The Intellectual Issues Steering Committee for Cultures and Civilizations and Self and Society will be composed of one representative from each of the sub-divisions of the College of Arts and Sciences, two representatives from the School of Education, and one representative from the School of Business. The Explorations in Natural Sciences Intellectual Issues Steering Committee will be composed of one representative from each of the Natural Science areas (i.e., Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Earth Sciences, and Physics), one at-large representative from the College of Arts and Sciences, one representative from the School of Education, and one representative from the School of Business. The steering committees shall consult with faculty developing new courses, review course proposals forwarded for inclusion in this area, and recommend them to the Board.

3. The Writing-across-the-Curriculum Steering Committee will be composed of one representative from the English Department, one representative from each of the sub-divisions of the College of Arts and Sciences, two representatives of the School of Education, and one representative of the School of Business. They shall review departmental plans for meeting the Advanced Writing component, recommend to the Board appropriate action regarding each department's plan, and make suggestions for revisions or modifications of courses and/or requirements in Advanced Writing, and serve as advisors to departments and instructors developing writing strategies within content areas.

4. Curriculum steering committees formed to initiate this program will remain in existence for up to two years, at which time their responsibilities will revert to the General Education Board.

Coding System: We recommend that the Registrar's Office devise a coding system for the College Catalog and Course Newspaper which will identify those courses that meet General Education requirements in each area.

VI. RESOURCES Establishing new requirements in the area of General Education is but a first step in getting a program operational. There will be need for minor and major revisions of current courses, as well as for the development of entirely new courses. These changes will require human and material resources. For example, faculty may need fiscal resources and assigned time or other compensation for effective curriculum development. The General Education Board can serve only as a curricular leadership organization, not as an entity which has control over fiscal or human resources. Departments, deans and other administrators will need to commit such resources as are necessary to put this curriculum into place. VII. NEW GENERAL EDUCATION PROGRAM AT A GLANCE In order to make the program essentials clear, we have provided a one page version. This has neither descriptive detail nor rationale regarding the areas. Please consider it only adequate as a reminder of the full proposal; we do not consider it to be sufficient as a stand-alone document.

A. Basic Skills Requirements. Students are required to display competence in EACH of the following areas: 1. Writing (0-3 credits) 2. Computer Literacy (0-3 credits) 3. Critical Thinking (0-3 credits). Total: 0-9 credits. Students may be exempt from one or more of the above requirements through competency testing or with appropriate Advance Placement credits.

B. Knowledge Foundations Requirements. Students are required to take 3-6 credits (as indicated) in the following areas: 1. Fine and Performing Arts (3 credits) 2. Humanities (6 credits) 3. Mathematics (3 credits) 4. Natural Sciences (6 Credits) 5. Social and Behavioral Sciences (6 credits). 18-21 credits in all. Students are exempt from the area of their major, minor, or concentrate.

NB: In the interest of breadth, where 6 hours is indicated in a Knowledge Foundations area, students must take courses from 2 different disciplines. (Different disciplines have different course prefixes in the College Catalog and in the Course Newspaper.) In the Natural Sciences, students must take courses in two of the following areas: Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Earth Sciences, and Physics. The exception to the 2-discipline/2-area rule is Modern Languages, where 2 courses in a single foreign language conducted at the intermediate level or higher may be used to fulfill the Humanities requirement.The General Education Board will approve courses to meet the Knowledge Foundations requirements.

C. Intellectual Issues Requirements. Students are required to take one course Explorations in the Natural Sciences (3 credits) and one course in either Cultures and Civilizations or Self and Society (3 credits) for a total of 6 credits. Intellectual Issues courses are upper-division courses.

D. Human Diversity Requirements. Students are required to take at least one course in EACH of the following: 1. Tolerance and Intolerance in the United States (3 credits) and 2. Global,International, and Geographical Awareness (3 credits) for a total of 6 credits.

E. Advanced Writing Requirements. Student are required to take at least five courses that include a writing experience beyond the Basic Skills course. This requirement may be met with courses that meet other General Education or major requirements. The faculty of each major will determine which courses satisfy this requirement. Students who transfer to SUNY Oswego with 60 or more credits are exempt from any lower-division writing courses required for their major, but are required to take any upper-division writing courses required for their major.