University of Vermont

Faculty Senate

Untitled Document

Proposed Outcomes for General Education at UVM

April 6, 2011

These six outcomes below, developed in 2010-11 by the Joint Committee on General Education of the Faculty Senate and the Central Administration,  were endorsed in principle by the Faculty Senate in May 2011, pending the continuation of an open and inclusive process that would determine detailed implementation and assessment plans to be approved by further votes of the Senate.  As the ad hoc Faculty Senate General Education Committee began its work in Fall 2011, it chose to focus its work on writing and information literacy.

Communication and Information Literacy

Students must develop broad and flexible communication skills in order to develop written texts and presentations designed for varied audiences. Communication skills are closely connected to information literacy skills, and both need to be emphasized over time and across disciplinary boundaries so that students develop increasingly sophisticated abilities.

In order to communicate effectively, students need to develop the ability to identify what sorts of information needs are appropriate for a given task, and they need to critically evaluate information and research data so that they can shape ideas and conclusions.  Students must be able to integrate information and research data into texts and presentations in line with audience expectations; students must also be able to cite sources, and write and present information in light of professional and academic ethical standards.

Students can use writing, speaking, and research to discover, express, and share ideas. A strong foundation for written communication should be created in a first-year writing experience (either a composition course or a first-year seminar designed specifically to be writing-intensive) that aims to help students develop writing, reading, and critical analysis strategies essential for their success in university courses and work contexts after college.  Such a course would:

  • teach flexible, recurring processes of invention, revision, and editing that can be developed in more specialized ways with advanced study
  • promote multiple modes of inquiry
  • help students understand how to analyze audience expectations and make sense of the array of academic expectations they will encounter
  • introduce research strategies that will develop in more specialized ways with advanced study
  • spend significant time on writing instruction

At the upper levels, courses, sequences, or other experiences will teach more specialized communication and information literacy skills, in ways that:

  • build on first-year composition to provide specialized training
  • introduce students to discipline-specific ways of thinking, writing, and researching
  • connect to professional expectations

As they move through degree programs, students will develop flexible strategies for communicating with a range of audiences and for a range of purposes.  Courses or other experiences will promote students’ ability to work alone and with others to produce complex and polished documents that integrate credible and appropriate information, formatted and cited in ways that are consistent with the discipline’s expectations.  In addition to learning the formats for written work and presentations, students will be introduced to the habits of mind that characterize their major discipline’s focus. Writing experiences in the upper division will allow practice of writing processes that permit sustained, researched work in the disciplines.  As appropriate, students will use composing and presentation technologies that mix words, graphics, and other visuals.  Students will have the chance to learn and explore the varied technologies and processes that advanced students as well as disciplinary professionals use to identify, analyze, organize, evaluate, and circulate information.

Quantitative Reasoning

Quantitative reasoning skills help students identify and propose solutions for problems; they also help students evaluate empirical claims and how to gather numeric or empirical information.  Quantitative reasoning teaches the ability to both create and critique arguments, which will prepare students to address problems in a variety of contexts—at home, at work, and in the community, students will need to create and support arguments using quantitative evidence, and they will need to communicate their thinking using words, tables, graphs, or equations that fit the situation, drawing on appropriate use of mathematical and statistical techniques.

Students who possess quantitative reasoning skills have the ability to:

  • Interpret data and mathematical models in the form of graphs, tables and charts, and draw inferences from them
  • Translate problems using algebraic and logical operations into a mathematical model using appropriately defined variables
  • Implement procedures for finding a solution using a set of criteria, constraints or assumptions
  • Apply arithmetic, algebraic and statistical techniques in conjunction with logical reasoning to solve a problem
  • Analyze proposed solutions, understand the range of possible answers, consider alternative solutions, check solutions against given data and assumptions, and observe when a proposed solution is not plausible

Cultures, Diversity, and Global Perspectives

Coursework and experiences in this area are meant to widen social, historical, and cultural perspectives and strengthen students' ability to take multiple perspectives by exposing them to a wide variety of cultural constructions with regard to religion and belief, institutions and society, political, economic and legal systems, and societal inequalities and marginalization within and among nations.  In an increasingly connected world, local social concerns simultaneously affect diverse societies globally.  Coursework from varied disciplines can prepare students to address the social, political, economic and environmental issues affecting the planet and its population that require global, collaborative solutions.

It is clear from the fall data that many members of the campus community consider competence in foreign languages an important aspect of being a global citizen.  The role of language study in relation to global and cultural understandings remains to be clarified.

In order to prepare students for living and working in a multicultural world, students must explore issues of identity formation, particularly within cultural, national, and global contexts. The Joint Committee affirms the Diversity Requirement; in our view, the outcomes proposed here complement and extend the diversity competencies that have already been affirmed by the UVM faculty.  Through the existing Diversity Requirement, which will not change as a result of any implementation of these outcomes, students take at least one course (D1) that addresses:

  • Race and racism in the United States
  • The meaning of power and privilege
  • The importance and impact of diversity and multiculturalism in the United States society

and includes content that fosters self-reflection regarding one's own prejudices in a manner that is observable by the instructor.

In addition, students may take at least one course (D2) that promotes an understanding of and an appreciation for at least one of the many facets of human and/or societal diversity including but not limited to:

  • Non-United States cultures, past or present
  • The workplace, organization, and/or the community
  • Global or international issues, including the flow of people, cultures, labor, capital, diseases, or resources past or present, across or within all international/multinational geographical borders
  • Backgrounds and/or orientations related to race ethnicity, religion, class/socio-economic status, language, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, age, disability, or other socially constructed categories
  • Interventions and/or techniques to serve the needs of diverse groups in society

Sciences, Systems, and Sustainability

Nothing is more complex than human societies and nothing is more pressing than to bring our species into a sustainable relationship with the natural world.  The ways of knowing in the natural and social sciences together provide a foundation to address these issues. In the natural sciences, knowledge comes through careful observation of the natural world. Scientific principles, including objective observation, forming and testing hypotheses, and critical analysis of scientific ideas are paramount. In the social sciences, the ways that people interact with each other, the social institutions and associations that emerge from those interactions, and the group identities and individual personalities that are shaped by these social forces, are examined.

To achieve this outcome, literacy in the natural sciences is essential. Through engagement in the process of doing science, students will understand and apply the scientific method.  They will become familiar with scientific reasoning, making appropriate assumptions, and using scientific methods and tools to solve basic problems. By communicating the results of a set of scientific experiments or observations to the broader community, students will demonstrate scientific literacy.  They should be familiar with issues relating to the credibility of, use, and misuse of scientific information, and they should understand the roles of diverse individuals and approaches in advancing scientific knowledge.

In the social sciences, analyses of the patterns of social interaction are critical, including studies of social dynamics and the distribution of power, wealth, and knowledge.  Group identities and experiences, social institutions, and an understanding of diverse sources of cultural capital are all components of understanding social forces.

Sustainability is an interdisciplinary field of study that brings together the scholarship surrounding the social, ecological, economic and cognitive challenges that affect the way those in the present are responsible to future generations. It lies at the critical intersection of science and society, and has at its core the ability to understand the ways in which Earth and social systems are interrelated.

Students who are prepared to address the challenges of creating a sustainable world will be conversant with scientific, ecological, social, and economic ways of thinking. They will understand individuals and institutions as parts of systems; they will be able to see patterns in human and natural behavior, and they can identify some of the relationships between the different parts of scientific, social, and natural systems as well as the relationships of systems to each other.

Both the biophysical world and human societies are complex systems; which is evident at all levels, from atoms to ecosystems, and individuals to social and economic systems. Through a systems approach to problem solving, students will focus on the relationships among the components rather than on the individual components themselves.  In this way, the emergent properties impossible to predict through isolated intensive analysis can become apparent.

Art, Aesthetics, and Design

Courses or experiences in this area should develop students’ aesthetic sensibilities, visual competency, appreciation of craft, and imagination, and should also engage them critically in a dialogue with human creativity through writing, reading, research, historic and cultural contextualization, relevant problem solving, listening, and oral peaking/performing. Through these various approaches to creativity, students will come to understand an array of arts or design practices, but also develop innovative ideas about how they might initiate and sustain their own communicative and expressive work and become informed members of a broad audience for such work.  To fulfill this element of the general education requirement students must produce or at least come to understand how works of art and design, broadly defined, are created and evaluated. 

Integration and Application of Knowledge

Courses and experiences in this area ask students to connect conceptual learning to challenges and opportunities in the world outside of the university classroom through experiential education.   In addition to participating in an applied activity, students critically analyze their experience in order to make meaning of it.  Students may complete the experiential education requirement in a variety of ways, providing them the opportunity to choose an experience that is connected to their own goals and interests. Particular work will be needed in this area to determine what infrastructures would be necessary to implement this outcome (both in terms of arranging credit-bearing experiences as well as evaluating alternatives for non-credit bearing arrangements).

Learning from experience does not happen by itself; this requirement creates opportunities for students to receive explicit instruction in strategies that are useful in individual and community life.  While a variety of experiences can fulfill the requirement, common features will include:

  • Identification of learning goals
  • Meaningful and purposeful experience/action
  • Support and consistent feedback from a faculty member, advisor, or mentor
  • Reflection on learning

Some examples of ways in which the experiential education requirement may be filled include:

  • Faculty-mentored and/or community-based research or creative activity
  • Field placements
  • Internships
  • Project-based courses
  • Residential learning communities
  • Service-learning courses
  • Study abroad

Last modified September 20 2012 08:31 AM

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