Gen Ed Identity Still Emerging

Tariq A. Musa ’10 left three Core classes for his senior spring semester, hoping they would “vanish” if he waited long enough.

Though his requirement tally did diminish by one when he joined the 43 other seniors who chose to make the last-minute leap from the Core to the Program in General Education, Musa says the benefits of switching proved to be more than just quantitative.

“Gen Ed classes seem more fresh,” he says. “The emphasis is more on taking the time to learn this stuff and getting comfortable with it rather than learning for an exam.”


While the Core focused on “ways of knowing” and required final exams in all courses, Gen Ed strives to connect class work to life outside Harvard’s “ivied walls” and to encourage non-traditional, interdisciplinary learning, according to its website.

Although Musa says he perceived a difference between his Core and Gen Ed classes, he says he knows very little about the specific ideology behind the shift in required curriculum.


Because the Gen Ed office’s efforts this year to realize its ideals have tended to occur behind the scenes, it remains unclear whether the undergraduate community has a solid grasp of the practical and philosophical differences between Core and Gen Ed.


Although the majority of the Gen Ed office’s time over the past year has been spent reworking course titles, merging offices with the Core program, and tackling other logistics of the transition, the office has also tried to nurture a less tangible goal—supporting non-traditional modes of learning.

In keeping with this mission, the office has become an advocate for artistic and creative coursework, according to Administrative Director of the Program in General Education Stephanie H. Kenen.

In February, the office provided space and funding for an open house showcasing Science of the Physical Universe 20, “What is Life? From Quarks to Consciousness” projects, ranging from videos about mitosis to models of the Big Bang.

The office also financed art supplies and sponsored an exhibit for Culture and Belief 12, “For the Love of God and His Prophet: Religion, Literature, and the Arts in Muslim Culture” this month, in which students presented model mosques and creative calligraphic depictions of Allah’s name.

“We use a lot of movies, video clips, and a lot of interaction in class,” says Nur N. Ibrahim ’13, a student in the course. “I feel that that’s the way a class should be, because it helps develop your skills in terms of media and communication and discussion.”

East Asian Studies Professor Shigehisa Kuriyama ’77 worked to incorporate more media assignments into his class, Culture and Belief 11, “Medicine and the Body in East Asia and in Europe,” after it became a Gen Ed course. Each week, students in the course create imovies or podcasts about the reading rather than writing response papers.

Science of the Physical Universe 12, “Natural Disasters” Preceptor Jeff Standish says the Gen Ed office was “instrumental” in supplying financial support as the course’s professor and preceptors designed hands-on labs from scratch, including simulations of volcanoes, landslides, and tornadoes.

“Another goal of how we look at this course—and it’s sort of a goal that Gen Ed has—is to give students the experience of being a scientist—of thinking like a scientist, collecting data like a scientist, and trying to come up with some conclusions,” Standish says.


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