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Faculty Consider Vision for New Gen Ed Courses

Spring Faculty Meeting
David I. Laibson ’88, chair of the Economics Department, and Jeffrey A. Myron, the department’s director of undergraduate studies, head into University Hall on Tuesday afternoon for a Faculty meeting.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences discussed what ideal General Education courses should look like in the new program at their final full meeting of the semester on Tuesday.

The chair of the Gen Ed standing committee Edward J. Hall, also chair of the Philosophy Department, presented a vision for courses and discussed opportunities and challenges for faculty teaching new Gen Ed courses.

“The key will be to work together—patiently and above all collaboratively—on building a slate of courses that target the broad aim of the program,” he said.

Hall outlined several characteristics he hopes to see in new Gen Ed courses. First, he said, such courses should be relevant to undergraduates by focusing on issues that impact their individual identities and conceptions of citizenship. He added that such “practical applicability” should be “understood in a non-utilitarian manner.”

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Hall also said the Gen Ed course instructor’s academic focus should not define the central problem a class addresses and that ideal Gen Ed courses should “teach through” a discipline rather than “teach about” a discipline. In addition, he recognized that student and faculty interests do not necessarily always align and, therefore, professors teaching in Gen Ed should explicitly explain the choices made in the design of the course.

“The point is not to pander but rather to articulate, to explain, and thereby to engage,” Hall said.

Under the new program, which the Faculty approved in March, students will take four courses in new Gen Ed categories and fulfill three distribution requirements across FAS and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. They also will complete a course that emphasizes quantitative skills. College administrators hope to launch the new program in the fall of 2018.

Government professor Danielle S. Allen, who is also director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, said she hopes professors will work with the center to develop courses in the new Gen Ed’s “Ethics and Civics” category.

“There’s a lot of curricular and pedagogic reform across the University having to do with ethics,” Allen said. “We’re just looking for six or so good souls looking to experiment with us.”

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris gave an update on the Standing Committee on Undergraduate Educational Policy, convened in the 2012-2013 academic year to oversee smaller subcommittees tasked to review a variety of issues in undergraduate education.

Harris said some committee members are reevaluating the place of academic writing and public speaking at the College. Specifically, researchers within FAS and a group of outside experts under the direction of Les Perelman, a retired administrator and writing professor at MIT, are looking into the Expository Writing program. Perelman is known for working on the College Board’s 2014 decision to make the SAT writing section optional.

“We are looking at various ways in which we can heighten the focus on student writing,” Harris said. “There certainly always remains room for improvement.”

Harris also said the committee, working with faculty members and departments’ directors of undergraduate study, will consider discussing public speaking, advanced standing requirements, study abroad opportunities, and joint concentrations.

—Staff writer Melissa C. Rodman can be reached at melissa.rodman@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @melissa_rodman.

—Staff writer Luca F. Schroeder can be reached at luca.schroeder@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @lucaschroeder.

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