By Kaitlin Carman
Asst. News Editor
Framingham State University is reviewing its General Education requirements in accordance with the strategic five-year cycle.
As part of this review, the General Education Advisory Board is seeking student and faculty feedback to write a proposal suggesting changes to be submitted to the University Curriculum Committee (UCC) by the end of January.
The UCC is a governance committee that will debate and approve the proposal. The final changes will be reviewed and approved by the All University Committee.
The first option, “Build a Model Around the Learning Objectives (LOs),” would make each LO a requirement and courses would be aligned with those requirements.
The strengths of this suggested model include general education purposes being clearer to students, clarity regarding the two primary reasons to change: LOs and model alignment and the need for a diversity requirement.
Implementation of this model could make “transfer alignment exceptionally difficult and maybe impossible,” and restrict pedagogical choices, according to the “Paths to Change” video that is posted on a Canvas site, “General Education Program AY 23-24.”
The second option, “Keep the Domain Model / Assign LOs,” would keep domains as “as they are, but each subdomain would have at least one LO attached to all courses in that subdomain,” according to the “Paths to Change” video.
The strengths of this proposed model include student and faculty familiarity with the current domain model. Also, the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) requirements are built in.
Drawbacks include the lack of diversity subdomains and would potentially include substantial changes to existing courses and limitations of pedagogical approaches.
The third option is “Create Something New.” It could provide an “opportunity to take advantage of the best thinking about general education, including the inclusion of HIPs (High Impact Practices),” as well as creating a better “integration between general education and majors,” according to the “Paths to Change” video.
Potential drawbacks include the requirement for a broad agreement on this new approach and “Increased resources for faculty development, logistics, and administrative support,” according to the “Paths to Change” video.
The work is expected to be completed by “after spring break,” according to Patricia Lynne, English professor and chair of the General Education Advisory Committee (GEAB). Any changes will affect the graduating class of 2029.
The University’s Assessment Advisory Group (AAG) developed a comprehensive five-year review that would, in accordance with NECHE parameters, allow the University flexibility to shape the program in a way that better serves students.
GEAB was formed in AY 2021-22. Lynne said, “The goals for this review are to figure out how to make our general education more meaningful, more useful, and frankly, make it clear to students why they are doing it.”
One of the key issues regarding the general education program, according to Lynne is, “Our learning objectives, which are supposed to be the learning objectives for the program, do not align with the program in any way.”
Another issue pertains to the lack of a “visible” diversity requirement. Although some current courses would technically fill that requirement, “there’s nothing in the model that specifically requires that all students take courses that have a diversity component to them,” said Lynne during the “Paths to Change” video.
This is an area of focus that students and faculty addressed on an anonymous discussion board on the General Education Program Canvas website.
“Approximately 5% of students graduate having completed all of the learning objectives for the program, which means they are not really learning objectives at all,” Lynne said.
Lynne explained the University's current model, the domain model, replaced the goal model. She said, “What the goal model did that was considered somewhat problematic is it had silos.
“Those silos meant that people didn’t talk to each other and students really didn’t understand [that general education program].”
In addition to silos, Lynne explained that there were also overlays students were required to take. If these were not being met, despite meeting basic requirements, students could not complete their degrees.
“It generated a lot of confusion and a lot of anger,” said Lynne.
During that review, one of the University’s goals was to get rid of the overlays and downsize that general education program, according to Lynne.
As a result, overlays were removed with the exception of a mandatory lab course. Lynne said, “We got it down to eleven [requirements] with one fulfilled by the major.”
“There’s still going to be some students who say, ‘Why do I have to take these courses?’ - that’s always going to exist. But if more students understood why … there’s going to be less resistance to general education and also more buy-in,” said Lynne.
Amanda Simons, chair of the Biology Department and the General Education Advisory Board, said, “Our accrediting agency says you have to take classes outside of your major because a bachelor’s degree isn’t just major courses.
“We don’t want to teach people in such a narrow window that you can’t make connections with other fields. General education is part of a bachelor’s degree in the U.S., but how we get there is really up to the individual university.”
Kate Caffrey, communication, media, and performance professor and faculty union president, expressed concern regarding the lack of visible diversity requirements within the current general education program.
One of the biggest concerns relating to general education is “that we have this learning objective for diversity and we don’t really have specifically outlined courses that are for that learning objective,” said Caffrey.
Secondly, “Across the nation, there’s all these changes in education and there’s much more of a focus on education as training for a job. I think some people think that’s a great thing - I’m not one of those people,” said Caffrey.
“I think general education is a really good thing and [it gives] students the opportunity … to explore something they might not [have].”
Her third concern is related to the third general education proposal, “Create Something New,” which was presented in the General Education Program’s “Paths to Change” video.
Caffrey explained the idea to have “general education courses that connect more to a person’s major - that makes me nervous.”
She said, “I think it’s limiting for students.”
Universities that have adopted similar general education programs have eliminated English and History departments, according to Caffrey.
“It makes me nervous for my colleagues. … As a union president, I’m concerned about people’s jobs,” said Caffrey.
“If you have a department that has fewer than five full-time faculty members, then the University can hire as many visiting lecturers as they want,” she said.
The University is focused on having higher enrollment, “but we need to take care of the students who are here, right? We need to retain those students.
“The thing that retains students is relationships with your professors,” said Caffrey.
Caffrey said, “As a union, we should be unified. … Our power comes from being unified and working together and I feel like right now, we are divided as a faculty because I think people feel scared and threatened because it’s their livelihoods.”
She said, “I’m concerned about living in a world [where] people don’t have a broad education and everything is focused on, ‘How am I going to earn a paycheck?’ That seems a little scary.”
Raena Doty, a sophomore SGA senator who is a student representative on GEAB, said, “I see a lot of value in being able to choose classes that I am strong in as a student.
“I want to choose classes that have to do with my major - have to do with my future career as someone who is trying to go into the field of education.”
Brock Bauman, a sophomore business major said, “I took a nutrition class last year and it kind of helps with diet stuff. … I don’t really see the benefit of … taking a history class.”
When asked about how general education could be improved for future students, sophomore Christy Howland said the University should “listen to students more and cater their general education courses more toward their major instead of a generalized nationwide standard.
“I need to know how to pay my bills, do my taxes, and all these important mathematical real-life things - they want me to spend my money on quantitative reasoning.”
When asked what they thought about the general education program, freshman Sebastian Pilat
mentioned the lab requirement and said, “That’s kind of stupid.”
Lynne addressed the presence of misconceptions “that there is top-down pressure to do a specific thing with the general education model - and that is absolutely not the case.
“To be frank, nobody in upper administration has said anything to us about what they think it should be. There’s nothing, nothing at all - and that’s as it should be.”
The General Education Advisory Board Committee has an active Canvas page where students and faculty can review focus group findings, governance reports and logs, and the Special Committee on General Education 2021 final report.
Community members can also voice their opinions anonymously through various discussion boards. For those who do not want their feedback posted, there is also the option to email ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lynne said, “We want to do something that is meaningful for our community and our students and so the intent is very much to get a sense of what that is.
“We’re never going to have one-hundred percent consensus and that’s fine - but I think we can reach something that is a fairly strong agreement about good things we should do.”
[ Editor’s Note: Raena Doty is an Arts & Features Editor for The Gatepost ]