While perusing upcoming course guides, students may be surprised to see new initials in the general education box. SI? PR? IM?
UC Santa Cruz implemented a new general education (GE) pattern this year, which the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) — made up of student representatives, faculty and staff — took three years to formulate.
“The faculty as a whole is now seriously committed to some new academic goals,” Palm said. “The faculty recognizes that, and the administration supports these changes.”
Current CEP chair and molecular, cell and developmental biology professor John Tamkun identified the main differences between the old and new incarnations of the UCSC GE system.
“Under the old system the majority of the general education requirements were courses that couldn’t be satisfied by upper-division courses or major requirements and students were encouraged to take them early as a mechanism for exploring interests and deciding what to study,” Tamkun said. “Under the new requirements they are linked exclusively to educational objectives as opposed to course content and they may be satisfied at virtually every level.”
As well as streamlining the major and GE courses, the new requirements are based around theories and types of learning skills as opposed to satisfying topical requirements that may not be offered in a student’s area of study.
The new requirements are also more curtailed to educating students on more general societal topics.
“Environmental awareness, service learning, ethnicity and race. These aren’t just political topics — they’re what our generation knows we need to understand or do to be successful in the world we will graduate into,” said Matthew Palm, a former CEP student representative, in an email.
Instead of the topical science requirements, the new GE pattern has a scientific inquiry (SI) requirement. With this more theoretical definition of scientific reasoning, more departments can offer SI courses.
“When we invented the scientific inquiry category, we were really clear that science is not a subject area — it’s a way of approaching a subject area,” said Jaye Padgett, UCSC linguistics professor and CEP chair, at the initiation of the project. “You don’t have to be in physics or biology to mount a class like that.”
Beside adjusting their approach to required courses, many topics have been added to the new GE pattern. One such addition, the textual analysis (TA) requirement, Padgett said, applies broadly.
“We’re bombarded all the time with graphs and supposed polls and numerical information,” Padgett said. “We ought to be educated on how to interpret it or to be skeptical about it when that’s called for.”
Another requirement, the practice (P) requirement has students participate in a “collaborative endeavor,” “creative process” or “service learning.” Within these categories are diverse opportunities with ACE tutoring, campus radio KZSC, public art projects and more.
The new GEs do not allow for one course to count for more than one requirement. Current CEP student representative Justin Riordan explains that while students may mourn the swift completion of two requirements with one course, the overall quality of classes should go up with singularly focused curricula. Also, since the new GEs only require about nine courses to the old GEs’ 13.
The new GE pattern also addressed the issue of enrollment, which was common in old GE courses.
“When classes started getting bigger and budgets got cut, a lot of these departments that used to offer W courses for anybody started canceling them or restricting them because they were just being crashed by hordes of students who had nowhere else to go,” Padgett said. “Suddenly we had this writing intensive requirement you needed [in order] to graduate and there were no courses that you could take to satisfy it.”
This effect is already seen in some GE classes. In post-doctoral researcher and lecturer Matthew Brown’s oceans class, a former Q, projected enrollment was 220. The day before class, enrollment was 110.
No matter how well the new GE pattern is planned out, Padgett said that the importance of the new structure largely depends on what the departments and teachers on campus do with it.
CEP chair Tamkun said that the response has been favorable to the restructure.
“[The departments and faculty] submitted a total of over 700 proposals of either new courses that satisfy the requirements or revised existing courses that satisfy the new requirements,” Tamkun said.
Professor Bruce Thompson agreed that the departments have been receptive.
“Recently, for example, I revised LTMO 144D, Jewish Writers and the American City, which satisfies the ER requirement, to highlight the intersection of ethnicity and gender in accordance with the requirement’s guidelines,” Thompson said in an email. “The result: more Jewish women writers and a more interesting, dynamic syllabus!”
Padgett said that reforming the old GEs was like reforming a graveyard because “both are dead and sacred.” Though the complete transition from old GEs to new will take four years as well as years of continuing development, the GE requirement is a structure that can be revolutionized.