General Education Renaissance
Our General Education curriculum should be a showcase for the kind of great teaching and learning that can thrive only in a research university. Courses of this kind provide many students with their first real exposure to what makes university-level learning different from high school.
Many students come alive intellectually from having taken an exciting General Education course. But all too often, General Education is treated as an afterthought by both faculty and students – as something to “get out of the way,” frequently at other, cheaper institutions or even in high school. The health of a public research university, and the vitality of its undergraduate program, depend on making the appeal of intellectual inquiry immediately apparent to students.
Thanks to generous support from the Rippey Teaching Endowment and other donor funds, the College of Arts and Sciences is able to commit significant resources to what we are calling the General Education Renaissance.
PROJECTS funded in the 2015-17 Cycle:
Anthropology and Folklore Clusters ~ The essence of General Education is guiding undergraduates through an exploration of three broad areas of knowledge: humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. Often, though, courses in one discipline don’t directly connect to courses in another, even when they address the same subject. This project changes that, creating a pair of three-course sequences that each look at a subject — sexuality or otherness — through one class in the humanities, another in the social sciences and a third in the natural sciences, a GenEd trifecta.
History of Motion Pictures ~ The History of Motion Pictures sequence starts in 1895 and brings students up to the present, but this project is all about taking advantage of modern techniques. It will bring new active teaching methods to the class by adding online student research dossiers and a media annotation app. Using these cutting-edge methods to engage with the material, students will collect and study primary and secondary source material (via the dossier) and show how well they understand it by posting comments and analysis (via the app). The project also exploits the Canvas learning management system, which the university recently adopted.
Boosting Active Learning in the Classroom and Outdoors ~ Active learning gets some exercise in this project, which reworks the introductory course Geography 141: The Natural Environment. Collecting weather data, launching weather balloons and pulling river flow measurements are some of the hands-on activities that will be paired with immediate-response quizzes and tests using the Canvas system. Small-group discussions, clickers and a new online version of the course also liven up the revamped class.
Critical Analysis of Japanese Language: Going Beyond Language Skills ~ Learning a language isn’t all pronunciation and grammar. By also examining its origin and structure, we learn a lot about identity, culture and society. This proposal will open Japanese 315: Introduction to Japanese Linguistics to more students and help them understand how the Japanese they’re learning in introductory language classes reflects a people’s way of thinking as well as their way of speaking. And by drawing from sources like social media, it will show language changes with the times.
Improving and Enhancing Introductory Classes in Political Science ~ Sometimes the way to see what works best is head-to-head comparison. This project will create a second version of an already popular online sequence, one with fewer tests but more writing and discussion, and compare the effectiveness of these two online versions with the traditional lecture version of the same course. It will also redesign another course, on political theory, to use more active learning techniques and to connect fundamental but abstract concepts like justice, race and political boundaries to current debates about criminal justice, the politics of Islam and the societal implications of human migration.
Rethinking the Environmental Humanities ~ The humanities have a lot to say about the environment, and this project would use new teaching techniques to help say it. The idea is to add short videos, social media and online media and writing projects to highlight key concepts in Environmental Studies 203: Environmental Humanities. It would also redesign the course’s service learning component to increase its relevance to a wide range of students by strengthening local partnerships and taking on issues such as environmental justice.
Learning English in Physics Class ~ Math is a universal language, but English isn’t. That’s what international students discover when they take PHYS 101, Essentials of Physics. While their American counterparts use discussion sections to work through difficult math, international students flounder for lack of English skills. This project could change that through a partnership with the American English Institute. Through specialized discussion sections led by AEI faculty, language instruction will be tied to specific course assignments. If this approach works, it could expand to other Gen Ed courses popular with international students.
PROJECTS funded in the 2014-16 Cycle:
Empowering Learners of Spanish Language: Language Acquisition through Social Science Content ~ More than half of all UO undergraduates have some Spanish skills but are not ready for or do not intend to take upper-division language courses. These courses will help students hone their proficiency and gain confidence in reading and speaking Spanish. By using Spanish-language writings as study material, courses also will expand students’ understanding of Latino culture in America and Spanish-speaking countries. Taught by a linguist, a sociolinguist and a historian, classes will expose students to the range of Spanish dialects, the use and development of “Spanglish” and the history of Latinos in the Americas. Courses will not follow the immersion model but will encourage switching between English and Spanish to help students become more comfortable with the language.
Graphical Literacy and Quantitative Reasoning ~ These courses will help students “see” complex data. A critical skill in today’s world is the ability to both create and understand visual representations of data: charts, graphs, story maps and the like. Climate change is an obvious example of an issue that depends on graphical literacy. Courses will use freely available graphical tools and databases accessible to novices to show students how data can be represented visually and how to interpret, analyze, synthesize and communicate that data. In our era of “big data,” giving students the ability to visualize and interpret information in graphical form and then to communicate their findings to others is a key skill for understanding our rapidly changing world.
Health, Bioethics and Social Inequality ~ The world today presents increasingly challenging questions surrounding the use of medical technology and disparities in health care delivery. These courses will help students understand different perceptions of health in different cultures, the effects of new genetic and reproductive technologies on medical ethics and the response to suffering in a globalized world. They also will teach a more complex view of health to include not only the absence of illness but also a person’s overall well-being. Small-group discussions will be a key element, and students will be expected to engage in live and online conversations, debates and role-playing.
Inequality, Justice and Difference ~ This project explores the political, cultural and social dimensions of economic inequality in the United States today, which by some measures is at its highest level in 75 years. To do that, the project team will use an innovative cluster approach to the subject, drawing on a half dozen faculty mostly from the social sciences. While concepts of inequality are studied in many UO courses, the cluster approach will offer an interconnected set of classes that will help students explore and tie together many facets of contemporary and historical inequality studies. Cross-lecturing also will give students exposure to faculty with expertise in related subjects. The project includes a strong assessment component to measure results and guide future expansion. Although the pilot phase leans strongly on social science faculty, the approach has the potential to expand into other disciplines in the General Education curriculum.
Peer Labs for Introduction to Psychology ~ PSY 202 is one of the university’s largest lecture-based courses, with more than 1,600 students registering each year. This program will offer undergraduates a new peer mentoring opportunity and the chance to engage more deeply with the subject matter. The benefits will be twofold. First, the labs will give students firsthand experience collecting and interpreting data, considering alternate explanations for the results and developing new hypotheses that build critical thinking skills. Second, the most talented peer students will gain a novel learning and leadership experience. Peer leaders will take a seminar, once as an apprentice and a refresher during their lab term, to receive training and review key concepts. Online lab activities will continue, but the peer-led sections will provide a forum for asking questions, practicing basic science literacy skills and asking logistical questions.
Writing Connections ~ The aim with this initiative is to provide a stronger connection between writing composition classes and issues in the General Education curriculum. To do that, topically oriented composition sections will be developed using reading and writing assignments drawn from casebooks that bring together material on ideas covered in the General Education curriculum. Topic examples include free speech, sustainability, social protest, the culture of science and others. These classes will allow students to make intellectual connections with their General Education coursework through research, the development of arguments and counter arguments and essay writing.