June 4, 2009

General Education Programs Incorporate More Engaged, Integrative Learning Practices

By: in Curriculum Development

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A survey released last month suggests that many colleges and universities are reforming their general education programs and developing new curricular approaches and educational assessment strategies for measuring key student learning outcomes. As institutions review their general education programs, many are choosing to incorporate more engaged and integrative curricular practices.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) survey of chief academic officers at 433 colleges and universities of all sorts (public and private, two-year and four-year, large and small) found that only 15 percent of colleges and universities are now using a cafeteria-style general education program alone. More than two-thirds of colleges and universities use a model that combines course choice with other integrative features like learning communities or thematic required courses.

For example:

  • 41 percent of institutions report incorporating common intellectual experiences;
  • 36 percent use thematic required courses;
  • 33 percent now have upper-level general education requirements; and
  • 24 percent use learning communities in which a group of students take the same set of courses linked to a common theme.

Many institutions surveyed are placing more emphasis on practices that educational research has shown are particularly effective. Seventy-eight percent are placing more emphasis on undergraduate research; 73 percent are placing more emphasis on first-year experiences; and 52 percent report placing more emphasis on learning communities.

Experiential Learning, Real-World Applications
While many of the trends documented in the survey suggest campuses are moving in the direction recommended by educational research, there are still areas where colleges could do much more to ensure that students have the skills and knowledge they need, particularly for success in a volatile global economy. For example, while earlier AAC&U surveys of employers indicate that they want colleges to place more emphasis on learning in real-world settings, only 36 percent of academic administrators currently give their own general education programs a high rating (4 or 5 on a 5-point scale) for including experiential learning opportunities.

A slight majority of those surveyed do indicate having some “experiential” goals for all students, however. About 53 percent, for instance, include “civic engagement” as one of a list of stated learning goals for all students. About half of the responding institutions also include either “research skills” or “application of learning” as common goals for all students.

Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed also indicate that they are placing more emphasis on incorporating service learning into courses either in general education or elsewhere in the curriculum. Nearly two-thirds are placing more emphasis on providing students with internship opportunities. Only forty-seven percent are placing more emphasis on practicums and supervised fieldwork.

For a full report on the findings of this survey, click here.

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