Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Great Gen Ed "Reformation?"

So the Gen Ed discussions have yielded fun insights (tongue in cheek):

1. Gen Ed classes suck.  No critical thinking.  No practical relevance.
2. Students suck.  They can't get their heads out of their asses to read a book, and they blame the faculty.
3. Faculty suck. They're drinking the "whiny-poo" kool-aid, and they blame the students and admin.
4. This blog sucks because what's a bunch of bitchin' going to do?

Well golly jeepers...where did I put that bat-signal because, damn it!, Gotham's in trouble!

But hold on.  Let me let you in on a little secret.  This blog is getting some good traffic, and I happen to know that some onlookers are the ones at the helm of the Gen Ed curriculum.  In other words, very interested eyes are reading what you are saying - interested eyes that have power to change things...

Psst.  Psst!  Yeah you.  That's your cue to take advantage and try to make a real difference here.  Let's hear your good ideas on reforming Gen Ed, if that is really what you want to do.  Be concrete, be practical.  Have ideas about students, about the faculty, about the admin.  Tell them what works and what doesn't work.  This may be your chance to make your talking really matter.  Of course nothing is guaranteed, but "if" UWW is a place of great education, let's hear your great educated ideas.

If you make the case, you might see the change.


  1. Well critically pissed. There is only one answer to your question. Revisit the entire general education program and come up with a new model. This is something most universities do periodically anyway. After 18 years, the time is now. If we start now, perhaps we can finish the reform process by the time Obama leaves office and Palin is sworn in.

    Salisbury Sam

  2. My life as a teenage robotDecember 19, 2010 at 1:31 PM

    Personally I think you're more likely to find non-blurry footage of big foot than you are to reform UWW using this blog. Just saying.

  3. First Problem
    I think the real problem is trying to create an objective for the Gen Eds. Because the more specfic an objective the more content areas are going to be left out. But the more broad the objective the more nebulous and unmotivating it will be for students.

    Second Problem
    This nebulousnes of objectivies is a problem of many organizations, because if the goal itself is vauge how do you measure progress toward it? How do you measure if students are embracing a multicultural soceity or are thinking critically? These are all things that schools try to do, but it seems since these things can't be measured like quantitative data on something like graduation stats, it puts us in a state of confusion. We don't know how the Gen Eds are impacting the lives of students.

    Maybe some sort of testing could establish if UWW students are getting the baseline of knowledge the Gen Eds are ment to convey

    The Librarian of Babel

  4. How about for starters, get the faculty who teach these courses to get excited about the courses. The guy I had for my first CORE class didn't seem like he cared much about what he was teaching. Looked like he was kind of going through the motions. I find that the more my instructor cares about the material, the more I seem to care.

  5. So your prof was boring. What did you do to generate more juice in the class? Did you ask questions on the readings or make intelligent comments to show him and other students that you cared. While there are some very fine students here, most students do not give a crap about their classes, but the proof is always in the pudding. Next semester, while you are in class, take a long hard look around you. What do you think students will be doing? I don't have to put on Bill Baggins ring to answer this question. Students will be either chatting, texting, reading magazines, or peering into lap tops. The block heads believe profs do not know what they are doing, and you think your prof should have been excited about this sorry state of affairs. I have head that the Union of Concerned Professors (UCP) is working with Congress and President Obama on legislation to provide them with the power to confiscate all cell phones and lap tops used inappropriately in class and to sell them on ebay to generate funds for the reform of the core courses. Sam's advice! If you want exciting classes,then make them more exciting. As Captain James Tiberius Kirk of the star ship Enterprise says - ENGAGE! You get back in life what you put in and this even includes core classes.

    Straight no chaser!

    Salisbury Sam, President of the UCP

  6. Holy shit! Is the answer that simple? Everyone, please read Salisbury Sam's two posts here and the answer will scream at you. The problem with our core classes is not the students and it is probably not really the actual course content (there are exceptions I'm sure). It is with the faculty teaching these courses! Salisbury Sam is too busy pointing fingers at everyone else but himself. What arrogance! "Everyone needs to change but me, says the wise old sage who knows all." Yeah, that's the biggest tip-off as to what or who really needs a swift kicking in the ass. My guess is that he expects everyone to just see the inherent value of his teaching and wisdom, and if they don't, then THEY need to change. Faculty who think this way bring down the university.

    I say that CORE class faculty need to get excited and passionate about their classes. They need to make every effort to make the material come alive for their students. They need to make every case to their students that this material is interesting and important. Once it becomes run of the mill, the class is toast. Should the students take some responsibility too? Sure, but a good prof won't count on that. A good prof might as well assume that all his or her students don't want to be in the core class and don't want to do much work. Make that assumption, then do your fucking best to ignite them.

    Can the administration do something about this? Is there a way to hold faculty responsible? You can make the structure of the course as well tuned as you want, but if your faculty person doesn't really care about the material or the students, you might as well put a doorknob in front of the class. I don't know how much discussion this kind of stuff gets elsewhere, but the faculty have to at least know that the large share of the success or failure of the core classes is on their shoulders. And since this appears to be an issue of concern, the faculty are failing.

    I've had enough of this complaining shit when the answer is now so clear. Students can do better for sure. But the onus is on the faculty, and once a faculty member starts saying otherwise by pointing to the past or pointing to the students, he or she is part of the problem.

    Sorry Sam. The Union of Concerned Faculty was heading in the wrong direction. It was directed at students and the administration. I'm now taking over as president and directing it at the faculty themselves. Watch your back. I'm going to try to light that fire under your ass that apparently went out years ago.

  7. Lighten up anon 7:12. Be civil! Sam holds no reciprocal animosity towards you. Sam loves a good debate. He ignores attacks, for they mean you are at least reading his posts. Joking aside, Sam agrees with two of the points made in your post. First, the best professors should teach core courses, and second, they should be held accountable for their performance, but this is easier said than done. In addition, Sam believes that profs teaching core courses should be given an incentive, perhaps a free veggie burger at Culvers, or a war hawk football ticket. It should be a high campus honor to teach core classes.

    Sorry charlie, you cannot make yourself president of the UCP, this is an elected office. Sam is watching his back and wears fire proof jeans at all times!

    Salisbury Sam

  8. I think one of the reasons that most professors don't like teaching Gen Ed is the same reason students don't like taking these classes. The subject matter isn't what they are intrested in. Even if I end up teaching a Gen Ed in my subject matter, I would still be dealing with only the most basic material of my field, because the students likely don't have the background for higher level analysis.

    Another reason for lack of professor intrest in Gen Ed is the hierarchical nature of Faculty. New professors get assigned to Intro and Gen Ed classes because as new faculity are low on the professor social staus pecking order. So the teaching these classes is is treated as a punishment that only low status professors have to endure.

    Regradless, motivation of both students or faculity is something that is difficult to actually change with school policy. Policy really would only offer extrinsic rewards like the prizes mentioned by Sam. But in that case we would be just using a carrot or maybe a stick to increase motivation, and extrinsic rewards provide fickle incentives, if the award goes away so does the behvior.

    The Librarian of Babel

  9. Well, it's apparent that professors don't care to teach CORE classes, and students don't care to learn from them, and I bet a lot of things are contributing to what’s “not-working” with the CORE classes.
    Maybe the course objectives of the classes aren’t well defined or well tested for the achievement of.
    Maybe students aren’t reflecting regularly on the course content to effectively grasp its meaning.
    Maybe professors are busy pining for a higher salary or a nicer office instead of reminding themselves why they wanted to teach in the first place (it probably wasn’t to get rich) and rediscovering the passion that seems to get lost in craving wealth and social status.
    Maybe the “big wigs” need to be less concerned with what UW-Whitewater looks like on paper, and focus on who all of its accounts are, and how they are being handled in this school.

    Regardless of all of this… the question is: what now? Is this just going to remain in text (as “My life as a teenage robot” pointed out, chances of reform using this blog are quite slim), or are we going to do something about it? What’s the bottom line? Remember the original goal here – to redefine/re-declare the purpose of the CORE classes and deliver a meaning that students can relate to and understand. Students should realize that what they learn in the CORE classes can help cultivate who they are as a person. Despite whether or not the material taught in the Gen Ed courses is “basic” with no higher level analysis, it is still worthwhile and good for something (isn’t it?), and that alone should be enough to motivate professors to get students interested. You know professors, the CORE classes are your chance to sell your department. Don’t you want students interested/passionate about the same stuff you are? Or do you not really care, because all that matters is that you receive a paycheck?

    I feel a lot of this is on the instructors and administrations end, so I as a student find it difficult to really know where to start when it comes to solving the issue here. Clearly we’ve gone over the inadequacies of the professors and students alike, so maybe now we need to go over the inadequacies of the classes themselves (i.e., the content of the lectures, the way the classes are carried out and graded, etc.)
    Maybe some meetings need to be held to brainstorm, discuss the practicality of, outline goals of, and develop proposals for what we all think can be done. That is, for all of you who believe that something can be done at all. It’s time to get who’s with me?

    The Initiator

  10. Why not just get rid of all of them? Let's just focus on our major/minor and not waste time with crap that is going to mold us into " well rounded" students.

    If you want to learn any certain discipline then why not take a class of that on your own. You don't need world of the ideas for example. If you liked Philosophy you would already taken a class of it.

    As for blame why not look at EVERYONE! Profs are bored as hell teaching material randomly like a damn slot machine, students are falling asleep or looking on their lap-top trying to find the next thing to get them through a boring lecture. Why? Because it doesn't matter, it's a check in a box.

    The Soultion? EVERYONE needs to put more thought and energy into their own job/education. Profs want students to learn better, stop showing powerpoint lectures and get the class involved. Students ask more questions and actually read the book. Cooperation not competition people.

    Sure, blogs don't really change anything. But it sure is fun.


  11. Is the solution really that simple? Ok, case closed! This blog had a good run, now onto the next topic....

    In all seriousness, who doesn't think it's a little ridiculous that we are aware of the issue, we are the people who can influence change, and we are collaborating, yet the result is some broad solution, a statement of what "rules of thumb" we think everyone will magically start following for themselves? And where is it set in stone that blogs don't really change anything? Maybe we do need to just get rid of the required CORE classes. Or maybe we need to change what the requirements are. What if students were given more options?
    No one person can know the answers here...
    but I'll tell you, if I had my way, the only Gen Ed required classes would be in philosophy, where students would learn how to think critically in the first place. Students can apply philosophy to whatever it is in the world they happen to be doing. Medicine, art, business, law, education, science, etc., a strong philosophical outlook is applicable in all areas of study (and life in general) and in my opinion, it helps all of us think critically of ourselves and our beliefs, values, etc. so we are able to better understand what our passions are, what careers we really want (money aside), what we want to do for our world, and what's important not only for ourselves, but everyone else as well.

    The Initiator

  12. Right, philosophy. Now that's something practical. a bunch of people thinking too hard about really dumb things. That's not how the world works. We need practical people who know how to make decisions quickly and stick to them without overthinking them. That's why democrats get themselves in trouble too much.

    Give me a gened class that is practical and has answers, that's what I'm talking about.

  13. It saddens me and to be honest, makes me somewhat angry that there are people like you, ANON 6:53, who think and feel this way about philosophy.

    Everyday of our lives, we walk around with these spectacles on. Spectacles that we view the world through, exactly the way we see it, from our point of view. What philosophy does, is removes these spectacles, and replaces them with new ones. Ones that allow a person to see and think things about the world that never occurred to him/her before. So while we all are making these quick decisions, focused on practicality, we are all losing sight of who we are, what we are contributing to, we're losing focus on digging up the realities we aren't aware of when we depend on our own spectacles. We're not critically thinking.
    How can you say that with philosophy we just have "a bunch of people thinking too hard about really dumb things"? Is it "really dumb" for people to think outside the box? Is it "really dumb" for people to be critical and ask questions of themselves and their beliefs/values/morals? What is "really dumb" is to walk through life wearing your own spectacles, and not be willing to check out what you could be missing about life. Please, reconsider your thoughts on philosophy. There is nothing "dumb" about it. We want people to make well-informed, critically evaluated decisions in life. What's the pressure to make these quick decisions and stick to them without overthinking them? Does that justify not thinking much at all about them? And how do you know what the world needs?
    You want gened classes that are practical and have answers? Look at the gened courses philosophically. Maybe its time to put on some new spectacles.

    The Initiator

  14. Well I like Philosophy just fine but I will agree it makes for a poor CORE class. World of the Ideas was a complete waste of my time.

    I also don't think everyone who makes choices quickly are practical. Take one good look around our world and you will see the chaos quick thinking as brought us.

    Philsophy also isn't stupid. Everyday you use it whenever you make a ethical choice, have any type of ideology, or even when you have a opinion of something at all.

    To go a few posts up i do agree that not everyone will follow a magicsl solution. Students won't just start reading the material and they won't go out of their way to put more effort in your classes nor will profs get off their asses and stop throwing grating lecture after lecture with power point slides at students. Why, because that is how we do education. That's the status quo and as long as the system holds you won't see real change.

    That's why the line must be drawn here, this far and no futher. As students and staff who use this very blog we can be the people who start doing things differently. If your a student then come to class with information prepared and be the person who starts the process and lead by example. In Soical work we call it the catalyst role. Profs why not try to bring in some videos, interactive teaching or above all else relate the material to today.

    Now, if people can't truly be seen to work together to try to change this and if hypothetically CORE classes had to be cut, then i would keep the very basic ones intact. This would include Math, Science, Speech, and English. This is the basic classes needed for a well rounded education. You will gain plenty of critical thinking skills in classes for your major. The rest are more of interest classes anyway i think. Let someone take them of their own volition.


  15. I'm afraid for UWW and for our country.

    In here we have students who resent being forced to be "well-rounded." I have news for you. There isn't much point to going to college if you're going to resist being educated.

    I've seen enough of my fellow students pissing away $3500 worth of tuition cruising FB while they should be taking notes, sitting on the edges of a classroom so they can't be seen and then bullyragging a prof because they can't hear, and skipping sections at will to last me a lifetime. The education is here kidlets and the obligation is yours to get it.

    Ask a question that looks for relationships. Share a pertinent quote or experience. Be present in your life. If your prof isn't giving you what you need then you must be the one to follow up. You have to make the contact, tho do the work, to get your education.

    Senator Nass thinks that we shouldn't have professors teaching "ideas." He wants to see the UW reduced to an uber-tech school teaching nothing but job skills. It's up to you to resist that dumbing-down of once proud institutions. The stupid people are in charge in Madison now and if you don't know enough to resist them you'll fall for their poulist claptrap every time.

    Your tuition buys you a seat at the table. What you take away is up to you. Stop whining and go get educated.

  16. What is the point of college level math classes if your goal is to go into a field that does not need the use of elite math skills? For example, if your major is in art, or journalism, what would studying math classes like intermediate algebra, which is a required core class, help the future of that particular person? Is it merely that they are trying to teach people how to think more in depth, tuning the mind into a far more critical thinker? If this were true than wouldnt it seem logical to be able to choose your poison? A class like intro to phylosophy would do the same in my opinion. I just dont comprehend the reason for much of the core classes when some if not many have nothing to do with the reason a person may be going to college. I think the more logical practice would be to allow a list of choice core classes, recommended by long standing professors from which any person could choose from, and design their own unique core required courses.

  17. If the faculty don't like teaching the core courses because they aren't interested in the content, then maybe they should have more control over the content so that they are interested in them. If the faculty become more interested in what they are teaching, maybe the students will become more interested too.

    Are faculty tied to following a certain syllabus?

  18. Before I get attacked again, let me clarify, I am not suggesting that Whitewater adopt Harvard's approach to general education hook line and sinker but it is not a sin to take a look at what other institutions are doing with their general education program and I do happen to like this one, not because it is Harvard's approach. I like it because they are making an effort to link the program/courses to the real world.

    Take a look. They even have course trailers like in the movie industry.

    Program in General Education

    Harvard has long required that students take a set of courses outside of their concentration in order to ensure that their undergraduate education encompasses a broad range of topics and approaches. The new Program in General Education seeks to connect in an explicit way what students learn in Harvard classrooms to life outside the ivied walls and beyond the college years. The material taught in general education courses is continuous with the material taught in the rest of the curriculum, but the approach is different. These courses aim not to draw students into a discipline, but to bring the disciplines into students' lives. The Program in General Education introduces students to subject matter and skills from across the University, and does so in ways that link the arts and sciences with the 21st century world that students will face and the lives they will lead after college.

    Below is a list of recently approved Gen Ed courses, as of November 17, 2010:

    English 198. Porgy and Bess - (New Course)
    Marjorie Garber and Diane Paulus

    Spring 2011

    Gen Ed: Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding
    Core: Literature and Arts B

    History of Art and Architecture 11. Landmarks of World Architecture Neil Levine and members of the Department and the GSD faculty

    Spring 2011
    Gen Ed: Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding; Study of the Past Core: Literature and Arts B

    New Courses for Spring 2011

    Check out these new Gen Ed courses being offered for the first time this spring! And take a look at our course trailers here, some of which are for courses being offered this spring!

    Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding 40. Monuments of Islamic Architecture David J. Roxburgh (History of Art and Architecture) and Gülru Necipoglu-Kafadar (History of Art and Architecture)

    Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding 44. Arts of Asia Melissa M. McCormick (East Asian Languages and Civilizations), Yukio Lippit (History of Art and Architecture), and Eugene Wang (History of Art and Architecture)

    Culture and Belief 43. The World of Yiddish
    Ruth R. Wisse (Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations)

    Culture and Belief 44. The Cradle of History: Ancient Historians and their Afterlives
    Christopher B. Krebs (The Classics)

    Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning 18. What are the odds? Edward J. Hall (Philosophy) and Andrew W. Murray (Molecular and Chemical Biology)

    Ethical Reasoning 26. The Ethics of Atheism: Marx, Nietzsche, Freud Peter J. Burgard (Germanic Languages and Literatures)

    Ethical Reasoning 29. Social Theory, the Humanities, and Philosophy Now Michael J. Puett

    (East Asian Languages and Civilizations; Study of Religion) and Roberto Mangabeira Unger (Harvard Law School)

    Science of Living Systems 21. Evolutionary Medicine Charles Nunn (Human Evolutionary Biology) and Peter Ellison (Anthropology)

    Societies of the World 44. Human Trafficking, Slavery and Abolition in the Modern World
    Orlando Patterson

    United States in the World 30. Tangible Things: Harvard Collections in World History Laurel Ulrich (University Professor; History) and Ivan Gaskell (History)

    Now this is what I am talking about, bringing the discipline to the students and linking it to the world of the 21st Century.

    Salisbury Sam

  19. Anon 6:22, to answer your question, yes they are tied to the syllabus but they can select their own texts but Lord Vader monitors the selection process and deviants are swiftly administered shock therapy to bring them back in line.

  20. Salisbury Sam : I got to give some credit where i can. I must admit that if we had options with our CORE classes and if they looked as fancy as those you posted for Harvard then students may be more interested.

    What do we think people? Could we offer students options? Could we treat it like the Liberal Studies program where students pick from lists of classes what they want for each catogory?

    I think if we had some flexibility and creativity we could make such options available. Students could pick from classes they at least have some interest in. You could tie it in with your major ( Don't need Algebra then take Business math!) and minor by taking classes from the list that help with what works for you. Profs could also be happy because they could teach classes that work for them. Check out our Liberal Studies program if you need evidence of how this works.