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End-of-Year Comments on GE

photo: top of Tower Hall in morning sun

End of Year Comments on GE, May, 1999. Lee Dorosz

¥ I'm sure most SJSU faculty don't yet realize how powerful their new GE policy is. Incredibly coherently put together, dating back to the well articulated 1995 Senate recommendations that led to the critical reconstruction of Areas S and V. Board and GEAP members, I as well, have just begun to learn this strength for ourselves as we've studied the learning goals and the various proposals. The SJSU GE program is onto something good, a fine set of linked educational expectations for students. I'll expand on this thought in future.

¥ One reason it's good is that it recognizes, rightly, that the overwhelming majority of SJSU undergrads need active, explicit guidance to build an intellectual context for their technical (major) skills. "Offering" doesn't do it for most of our students; they need to be steered, aggressively so.

¥ The faculty who serve on the Board, and those who participate regularly in the Advisory Panels, are saints, nothing short. The work load can be immense, the rewards non-existent save for their own intellectual engagement. Individually loved, perhaps, but generically excoriated. No lesser word. That's a shame. On the plus side, though, five highly respected senior faculty have thusfar accepted nominations for the Board's two vacant seats. People who have contributed immensely to SJSU and want to continue to do so. Thanks.

¥ Assessment in GE turns out to be a minor issue. Once a proposal seriously addresses the new requirements the key assessment issue ends up being how the Board should go about summarizing and evaluating information when the course is over. We'll soon involve you in discussing what I expect to be some creative faculty-friendly options for the summarizing.

¥ Some things are broken. Too many faculty candidly say how much energy their departments put into GE solely because of FTES. Were it not for the economic value of GE, I believe most departments would offer one or two courses of which they were very proud, rather than trying (in many cases) to cover the waterfront by getting marginal things certified in as many Areas as possible. Short of adopting one of Selma Burkom's long-standing strategies for separating education and FTES payoff - an unlikely scenario at this time, probably ever - I haven't a clue what to do with this problem. I've spoken with some Senate leaders about this issue.

¥ All is not well in many multi-section courses either. Too many instructors thrown into GE without orientation, to run up section numbers and capture FTES. As long as students are happy, and the course addresses Area content, worry not about "learning goals," the instructor becomes ipso facto a good one (I've been there, I know this scene first hand...). The Board authorizes one course, the department teaches a variety under that rubric. The answer is on the shoulders of the Chairs. They make as serious an effort as they can but the demands on these beleaguered souls don't permit what they'd like to give to the issue. Too many other survival priorities. And the students don't suffer, they've had a good class, but they do miss out eventually - we hear it when the community at large grouses about our graduates' writing, speaking, global and cultural insensitivities, practical understanding of human behavior, etc. About what they can't do. GE stuff. You've heard my litany.

¥ There are a WHOLE lot of instructors out there killing themselves to see to it that their "offerings" are superb (whether they precisely meet policy intentions or not.) If you're making it in GE, you don't often get writeups in glossy publications. In fact, you're lucky if you get the thanks of colleagues whose expensive small-enrollment upper-division classes and labs your FTES efforts make possible; too often they see GE faculty as second-class colleagues. We need to let GE faculty know how much they're appreciated. They're what college is fundamentally about - becoming an educated person. I've been chastised, rightly, for not doing enough in this domain. I'll work on it.

¥ The policy's going to need tweaking to make it possible to include more easily a few courses that pretty much everyone agrees ought to be certified, but that just don't fit.

¥ We've unearthed some meta-weaknesses in Advanced GE that you'll hear more about, perhaps as the bases for university-wide self-examination. Not nearly enough independent searching of scholarly materials by students. Abysmally little feedback on writing, and darned near zero re-writing. Only rare requirements for in-class writing. Few criteria by which students understand how individual "class participation" is evaluated. Insufficient criteria for them to understand how written work will be evaluated. Surprisingly limited use of well structured team-centered in-class activities to get students involved in collaborative learning. Perspective too often narrowly single discipline. Core GE skills not assumed as building blocks for advanced work. Amazingly little explicit direction of students to the new forms of information management. When a proposal floats in that does most of these things well, it just shines. There's no mistaking the gems (Jennifer Rycenga, take a bow for two extraordinary Area S proposals. Sulekha Anand the same for 100W, and the English comp faculty for 100W and 1A/1B. There are others - these come first to mind.)

¥ And last but not least, public thanks to the office GE team: Gail for warm wisdom, human insight, and organization; Cindy for always being there with her optimism and her practical guidance and history; and Bonnie for pushing us into new frames of reference and jumping all over me when I'm about to do something stupid (I don't always give her the time to stop me - sorry). And of course Anna, who tolerates us marvelously and sees to it that your cherished products do not disappear into the chaos. And Terry and Barbara, who grin at us because they're not intimately responsible for the up front anxieties of GE.

I'll let you add the usual GE signoff....