GERs to be replaced by ‘Ways of Thinking’ for Class of 2017

Nov. 15, 2012, 11:36 p.m.

Departments are now registering courses eligible to fulfill the new general education requirements, Ways of Thinking/Ways of Doing, approved by the Faculty Senate earlier this year.

In accordance with recommendations by the Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford (SUES) report, the new requirements will replace both the Disciplinary Breadth and Education for Citizenship general education requirements (GERs). Changes will take effect for the incoming class of 2017.

While the current GERs are “based on sampling disciplines,” the new Ways of Thinking/Ways of Doing will be “based on [building] essential capacities,” according to the Faculty Senate’s Breadth Governance Board official description of the program.

The new program is designed to signal to students that “these are important capacities…to have,” but then to “leave the choice of the knowledge up to the students,” so they can pursue the capacity in a subject area that aligns with their own interests, chair of the breadth governance board Chris Edwards said.

The program will focus on eight capacities or Ways: aesthetic and interpretive inquiry, social inquiry, scientific method and analysis, formal reasoning, applied quantitative reasoning, engaging diversity, ethical reasoning and creative expression.

The Breadth Governance Board hopes that this emphasis on capacities rather than disciplines will ultimately enable students to “actively create an education rather than passively receive it.”

Students must take two courses in three of the Ways and one in each of the other five, for a total of eleven required courses. Currently, students must one take one course in each of five GER disciplines and two of four education for citizenship courses for a total of seven courses, although some courses cross-fulfill GERs.

A major benefit of the Ways program is that, by focusing on ways of thinking instead of areas of study, it will allow more requirements to be fulfilled within a students’ major or through their general interests.

Yet despite the unit total of 33 to 55 units, according to Edwards, the “net number of classes is either the same or a little bit less for most majors.”

Departments were able to register classes qualifying for Ways credit starting Nov. 10. The first class registered was CLASSGEN 17: Gender and Power in Ancient Greece, taught by Maud Gleason, professor of classics. The class fulfills both the engaging diversity and aesthetic and interpretive inquiry requirements.

Although only a few departments have begun officially registering courses, most have a sense of how their curriculum will fulfill the Ways, according to Edwards.

Within Edwards’ department, mechanical engineering, the sophomore level engineering courses like his own ENGR 30: Engineering Thermodynamics will be registered under the scientific method and analysis and/or applied quantitative reasoning requirements.

Additionally, the product design program, which shares much of the same faculty and courses with mechanical engineering, will list classes like ME 101: Visual Thinking under the creative expression GER.

According to Susan McConnell, biology professor and Breadth Governance Committee member, the biology department’s core courses are “obvious candidates” for scientific method and analysis. Some upper division classes may additionally be registered under applied quantitative reasoning.

The Biology Department will also register some upper division courses in more surprising areas. For example, McConnell’s introductory seminar BIO 7N: Introduction to Conservation Photography will be registered as a creative expression course.

In the School of Humanities & Sciences, the History Department plans to register most of its courses under the social inquiry GER. This designation “fits history very naturally,” because it addresses the “larger narrative arc about how things come to be the way they are,” said History Department Chair Karen Wigen.

Wigen expected that engaging diversity would be another popular designation for classes like HISTORY 246C: Islam and Christianity in Africa, and classes that study “intellectual history” such as HISTORY 251C: The American Enlightenment would fall under aesthetic and interpretive inquiry.

These new capacity-based breadth requirements are receiving largely positive feedback from both faculty and students.

“The intent behind [the new system] is very good,” Wigen said, who affirmed that capacities, rather than just subject matter, are the department’s teaching goal.

The challenge is for faculty to come up with “creative ways to address this rubric,” Wigen said.

To this end, the Breadth and Governance Committee is encouraging innovation in classes for both majors and non-majors within each department so that students can fulfill some Ways requirements within their interest area, but are also sometimes forced to step outside of their comfort zone.

For example, a collaboration between the Mechanical Engineering Department and the Center for Ethics in Society to create a class for seniors that explores difficult ethical dilemmas that students may face in the engineering world is on the horizon, Edwards said. He also cited PHYSICS 19: How Things Work: An Introduction to Physics as a good example of an innovative class for non-majors.

“It’s not a watered down version of physics…it’s the skills from physics that someone who isn’t going to be a science major might want,” Edwards said.

The Faculty Senate continues working towards the implementation of other recommendations of the SUES report, including helix courses and project-based learning.

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