General Education at UIC: Is it Time for a Change?

>>SUSAN POSER: Good afternoon. My name is Susan Poser. I’m the provost here at UIC, and I want to
welcome you all to the campus conversation. The first one of the academic year. Let me say, first, that I left a ‑‑ somehow
the back page of my introductory remarks there somewhere on my kitchen table, so I’m actually
reading this off my phone, which you might think is cool, but I’m not sure I can do it. So this might go ‑‑ I’ve never done this
before. So the goal of the campus conversation series
is to have faculty, students, and staff engage with each other about some of the big issues
of our time going on now and affecting all of us. As a community dedicated to social justice
and diversity, we come together to try to understand current events and talk about the
issues. Over the past three years, we have looked
at issues such as immigration, civil rights, national and local elections in the hash tag
me too movement. Upcoming programs for this academic year include
social media and mental health, food insecurity, free speech on campus, climate change, and
Mayor Lightfoot’s first year in office. Today the topic is closer to home, the general
education program at UIC. The gen ed program is comprised of over 400
classes, most offered by the college of liberal arts and sciences that fall under six broad
categories. In order to graduate, students must take one
class from each of these six categories and a total of at least 24 credit hours from the
list of courses. The six categories are as follows. Analyzing the natural world, understanding
the individual and society, understanding the past, understanding the creative arts,
exploring world cultures, and understanding U.S. society. The purpose of this program, as described
in the catalog, is that it ‑‑ and I quote ‑‑ provides students with a breadth of exposure
to the academic disciplines and serves as the foundation for the knowledge, skills,
and competencies essential to becoming well educated college graduates, and citizens. General education program at UIC has a structure
that is similar to most such programs. It creates a set of categories that are outcome
based, in other words broad areas of knowledge and/or skills with the faculty and students
should possess as college graduates. At the same time the program allows students
in substantial freedom in choosing classes within each of the six categories. Other universities pick different types and
different numbers of categories, but for the most part, UIC’s version of general education
follows a structure of the vast majority of general education programs at big research
universities in this country. It follows then, and it’s worth noting, that
there is nothing fundamentally wrong with our gen ed program. It is very much in the mainstream. As far as I know, we don’t receive a lot of
complaints about it. At least if we do, I haven’t heard them. However, there are two overarching reasons
why I think it is time to take a look at UIC’s general education program and to think hard
about whether it is, in fact, providing, again I quote, a foundation for the knowledge, skills,
and competencies essential to becoming well educated college graduates and citizens. And my two overarching reasons for this are
as follows. First, the program is, as I said, very much
in the mainstream. But UIC is not. We have one of the most diverse student bodies
of any research university in the country, and this diversity is expressed in many ways,
including race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, socio economic status and background,
residential versus commuter, and so forth. We have no racial or ethnic majority among
our student body which therefore looks like this country is going to look in about 25
years. This means that we are educating tomorrow’s
leaders and we better be sure that we are doing right by them. The second reason for taking a look at our
gen ed program is that the faculty began to create this program back at around 2003. That was when the last view began, I believe. And the world has changed a lot since then. That was the year that Marc Zuckerburg in
his Harvard dorm room started what would become Facebook. 2003 is now before a lot of some would say
indispensable technologies, like the iPhone in 2007, of course that means all apps and
fit bits. YouTube, Google maps, Uber, and the mainstreaming
of on line education. And Twitter. Most of our incoming freshmen this year were
born around 2001. So for all practical purposes, to them 9/11
is history, not lived experience as it is for many of us on a teaching side. So it’s time that we took a fresh look to
see whet her in light of who our students are and the world that they grew up in, as
well as the nature of the modern work force, the current general education program is serving
them in the very best possible way. We are at the very, very beginning of this
process with more details to follow soon. And I’m not ‑‑ I have not shared my thoughts
about the process for going forward with this panel here. So please do not press them for information
about that. They really don’t have it. I’ve kept them happily ignorant. Last winter, I created a task force of faculty. Most of them are sitting here before you,
and I asked them to do a brainstorming exercise. Without thinking too much about what was feasible
and without attention to parochial concerns, particularly things like budget implications,
where the tuition would flow. I gathered this group together, it’s worth
noting, by asking the deans and department heads and some other people for recommendations
of people who are very open‑minded, know something about the general education program,
and would be able to have conversations without going back to parochial concerns of their
own colleges or departments. I asked them then to think outside of the
box about what a general education program could look like and to write up a narrative
of the ideas that they discussed so that we could start this process by thinking big. Maybe even thinking a little crazy. Just as an idea generating exercise to get
us started. The report they created, which is available
on my web site, although I am told if you go into my web site and then you go to Box,
I’m told that Box it may be down right now, which we did not do on purpose, but it is
there and you’ll be able to find it hopefully now or very shortly. So the report that they created followed these
instructions, and most of the task force, everyone who is able, is here today to talk
with you about their discussions. I am unfortunately unable to stay for the
session because of the commitment I made very many months ago that just simply through bad
luck now conflicts exactly with this session. But this session is being streamed and recorded
and I will view the entire event as soon as it is available in the next few days. So I’m now going to turn it over to professor
Laden, who although at some level the chair of the task force, I think maybe would prefer
to have been called the sort of coordinator. Calling it what you will, he’s going to introduce
the panel and have the panel introduce itself. There will be lots of opportunity for all
of you to ask questions and to send comments by using the camera on your phone as explained
in the sheet of paper that was on your chair when you came in. If you take a picture of that little square
thing, whatever it’s called, it will get you into a Google doc and you can write down questions
which we will then be able to pass onto the panel, if you’d rather do it that way, we
also have a microphone up here which you can utilize as well. So I will turn this over to Dr. Laden and
the rest of the committee. Thank you again for being here. We very much look forward to your comments
going forward. Thank you.>>DR. LADEN: (Applause.) Is this on? Can you hear me? Okay. So thanks for coming out and joining in this
conversation. What I thought I was going to say briefly ‑‑
very briefly sort of what we did in our discussions, how I think the report came together and what
I think it ‑‑ maybe the use is. And then to remind those of you who have read
it and inform those of you who have not basically what’s in it in terms of the sort of items
in it. I won’t go into much detail because I like
to open things up for conversation but if something intrigues you and you haven’t read
the report, we are more than happy to fill in details. And then I’ll give it up to my fellow task
force members who can correct everything I’ve said and then we can open it up to conversation,
I won’t say questions, but you can ask questions as part of the conversation. So as the provost said, she gathered us together
to think big in general education so in the course of the last spring semester we met
five or six times over lunch for about two hours and did something between brainstorming
and deliberating. That is, we read some stuff to sort of get
our thinking going and then we threw out ideas and somewhat ‑‑ in somewhat structured
ways, pursued some of them to some degree to see which of them generated excitement
amongst members of the task force, which of them fell into obvious difficulties very,
very quickly, and we sort of recorded that as we went along and then at the end of the
semester, we gathered together what seemed to be the still living and interesting ideas
we had and threw it down into this report. So you might ask, well, what’s the point of
pulling together these ideas that haven’t been hugely vetted, that were thought of by
10 faculty members from around the university who have no particular authority to be determining
the curriculum on their own, and so forth. And here’s the way I think about it. I mean, I think any time you want to make
this kind of change in the curriculum education and institution this large, there are enormous
inertial pressures to make it pretty much like it’s always looked, right? And if we want to avoid that, if we want to
think deliberately, intentionally and well about what it might mean to educate our students
to the best of our abilities, unconstrained by the inertia, institutional inertia, that’s
there now, it helps to have some big ideas to sort of grab on to that aren’t themselves
built out of that status quo to just jump start thinking in an interesting way, an imagination,
and see where that goes. And so I think of these ideas as ideas that
are, if you started from any of these ideas, it would be hard to end up with a gen ed system
that just collapsed back to redrawing the boundaries of what was in the course catalog. That is most general education programs, you
take the course log as it exists and divide it up in a particular way according to some
idea of divisions and then say everybody has to pick one from every box but you don’t do
anything to the actual courses being offered so you don’t actually really affect education
we’re offering our students so we want to get past that idea and towards really rethinking
what we’re doing when we’re educating our students. It helps to have things to grasp on to. And that’s what I think these do. I’m not sure if my task force colleagues agree,
but anyway, that’s one way to think about this material. And you know, it may be that we decide at
the end of the day we don’t want to do that. That is the effort in redesigning the nature
of education of what we’re doing or we make it worse or is beyond our capacities but I
think we should at least entertain the thought of what that looks like. Okay. So just out of curiosity, how many of you
actually read this report? So some but not many. So let me try and give a quick summary of
what’s in it. Apart from saying at the beginning that we’re
just throwing out these ideas and we hope they will generate conversation, it brings
into three set kind of ideas. There are a set of suggestions about how we
might think about the actual courses that make up a gen ed curriculum. Then there’s some discussions about how we
might situate gen ed or some things that are less like gen ed within UIC’s overall structure. And then some thoughts about process going
forward. So on the course side, the first two suggestions
involve organizing courses around lists either of skills or capacities, and we need some
discussion about what the differences between them. What I think is important is that both of
those ways of thinking about what it is a course is designed to accomplish and teach
is that they’re different from subject matter or disciplinary approach or methods or the
various kinds of things that generally lead to the recarving of the course catalog. And so they’re the kinds of things that aren’t ‑‑
like teaching certain skills or certain capacities are not, I think, the primary aim to most
of our courses when we teach undergraduate classes. We may do that on the side, think it’s a really
important thing to do but my guess is most of us don’t design our courses with that as
a primary goal. So this would involve thinking differently
about the kind of courses we offer in gen ed. And I think that we can talk about the difference
between skills and capacities, but I think what matters in both ideas is that they’re
trying to avoid two things. One on the one hand dummying down what we
teach into some set of very small level things that don’t capture the depth and complexity
of the kind of ideas and thinking we want to inspire in our students but at the same
time they are meant to highlight some of the valuable things that we can and do teach that
go beyond the subject matters we teach and which in interesting ways cross disciplinary
divisional boundaries. So to give you an example, I’ll stick to something
that I know because I’m a philosopher, you might think there’s a skill in understanding,
analyzing and evaluating arguments. That’s a skill that philosophy courses tend
to teach well, but other courses do as well. And it’s a useful skill outside of philosophy
in life in many academic disciplines. And so we might think being able to do that
is something we want our students to be able to do, and so we might think about what it ‑‑
courses that look like that would do that. I think math courses oftentimes serve to teach
students how to think about arguments very well. Or think about courses that teach students
to think about intricate interrelated systems. You might find those in an environmental science
course or a sociology course. So that’s the first suggestion, is to think
about organizing courses that way. Then some more particular ideas about sort
of intersect with those or come against them, one would be just to limit each category to
a very, very small number of courses, I mean like three. So radically change how we think about things. And the idea here would be that you would
develop a course collaboratively amongst 10 to 15 faculty member from a variety of colleges
and disciplines, again and you can sort of see how this might work if we have skills
or capacities as the aim of the course and the course might have different sections and
different subject matters in those different sections but aim at covering some particular
skill. One way to do that would be to then have the
different sections covering different subject matters that have a common exam where you
had to demonstrate this skill of argument analysis or systems thinking or what have
you. A very different model that we played with
was to make courses problem based and team talk. So take big and tractable social problems,
climate change, persistent poverty, the digital divide, and design courses that are meant
to help students think about those issues from a variety of disciplines. Connected to that was an idea that we make
some gen ed courses more like cap stone courses so you can imagine a system that involved
some basic skill level courses that students would do in their first couple of years and
then they would spend a lot of time in their major and then come together in cap stone
course across majors that were problem based so you develop some expertise and then you
get the philosophers and the sociologists and the environmental scientist and the engineer
together around the table to think about climate change. And then another idea that comes up in that
part of the report is to try to integrate study abroad or other experiences into gen
ed, whether to do that into every gen ed course or to have that be a gen ed category or requirement
of its own. There’s some issues there about cost and expenses
and finding alternatives to actually going somewhere to have that same kind of immersive
experience. After that we turned to organizational matters,
and one that I’m sure is going to be controversial, we suggest the possibility of creating some
sort of administrative unit that would oversee gen ed, college and office and division. And I think here the idea is that if you’re
going to create a system that’s really going to require the university to ‑‑ and faculty
and the advisors and the administrators to work in ways that are fundamentally different
than we have habitually worked before, that’s going to require a fair amount of curating
and that’s a full‑time job. And so you would want somebody who comes from
the faculty to do it but I want to do that as over time on my regular job, which means
I don’t want to do it as a committee assignment. And it won’t get done well as a committee
assignment. It requires thinking about how these courses
are taught, whether they’re actually doing the right thing, what this course is supposed
to look like if we’re revising them so creating an administrative structure that would have
full time people doing it might be one way of keeping the system functioning properly. Then we suggested, too, alternatives to gen
ed but you can imagine them maybe mixing in with the gen ed system. So there were some people worried about the
pressure that in some major students have to both complete their major and acquire all
the skills and the knowledge that their major requires and also do gen ed which seems like
this side piece of their education so you might think of allowing departments to curate
their students’ ways through gen ed in a certain way, whether that would mean exempting them
from certain requirements or directing them in a way that made sure satisfying those requirements
was done in a way that was also helpful for developing whatever it was the major was trying
to teach. So that was one idea. Then another idea was to think not in terms
of a gen ed system but a system of paired majors and minors that would require as one
of our colleagues said, students across the campus, so you imagine that philosophy majors
would have to do a minor in accounting or in kinesiology and you make students in applied
health sciences do a minor in philosophy or history. To give them some depth thing that’s very,
very different from the kind of educational experience they’re getting in their major. And then we talked about process. So one thing ‑‑ and I think the most
important thing we all agreed on ‑‑ is that whatever the process is going forward
and as the provost said, I have no idea what she has in mind, that it involves student
input. We met at one point people from the student
health design, who do human center design processes and they talk a lot about ways of
creating a process that would involve getting input from all kinds of stakeholders who have
experience with our gen ed system as it is now, kind of identify what the problems are
and where the shortcomings are, use that as a beginning point to reflect on that. And we thought something like that or some
form of much wider consultation about the current system and where it is falling short
would be a helpful thing to do. And then we thought it would be important
given ‑‑ we all have a sense, contrary to what the Provost said ‑‑ a lot of
the ways the gen ed system is not working and is not liked by anybody. And in particular students. So one thought is that if you’re going to
radically rechange it, it needs a new name and a new branding strategy just so that students
come at it with a different attitude and that that attitude is warranted. I think rebranding wouldn’t do anything. There has to be something that you’re to describe. We also suggested possibly starting with a
pilot program. So I think any big change like this in a large
university is going to have massive unforeseen consequences. So we hoped that, A, departments would be
protected from those consequences for a period of time, as we figured out what this looks
like. But also that it might help to sort of get
a handle on what some of those consequences were if you did a small version of it first. And then finally just pointing out that we
will need to think about other mechanisms to prevent the kind of back sliding into our
inertial habits that any change to gen ed and any change to the way we educate our students
is likely to create. We all have our habits of designing courses,
of thinking about what that course is, about the way we teach, about the way we take classes,
about the way we advise students to take classes. And if we’re going to radically change how
we think about it, how education has to happen, it’s going to be easy for that to fail if
we all go back to our habitual ways of doing things. So figuring out how to avoid that if we want
to go this route we think is an important part of this process. So I want to let my fellow task members correct
and weigh in and add anything to what I said. But I first want to thank them all for their
work and the spirit in which I think we all did our work. And one of the really pleasant and exciting
and good things about the discussions around the table was that we were all singularly
focused on how to do our best to educate our undergraduate students. And in these kind of conversations, that doesn’t
always happen. And so I want to both thank my colleagues
for engaging in this exercise that way and hope that as we go forward, we can get to
engage in this exercise that way. So let me stop there and see if anybody wants
to add anything.>>DR. REED: Dale Reed, computer science. I have a question for all of you. One thing that came up in our conversation
was that there was some sense of satisfaction about gen eds. So I’m curious what you think. So let’s vote. So very satisfied, please don’t change anything,
it’s great, that’s a 5. Like oh, please, anything, let’s change it,
we really need to change it, that would be a zero. So I’m just curious, we can all vote at the
same time if you want to abstain, don’t raise your hand. I’m just curious how you feel about the current
situation of gen ed here at UIC. And look around, see what other people think. All right. Thank you.>>I’m Lisa Freeman from the college of liberal
arts and sciences in the English department.>>I’m John Coumbe Lilley, associate professor
in the department of kinesiology.>>Hi, I’m Agustina Laurito, assistant professor
in the department of public administration.>>Michael Thomas from the department of psychology.>>I’m Serdar Ogut from the department of
physics.>>LADEN: Did anyone want to add anything
to my brief summary?>>FREEMAN: I think ‑‑ so I think I’m
starting to see some questions that are streaming in via the Google doc app. So I think one of the things I want to emphasize
from what Tony was saying is we were not meant to think about specificities. Those are the kinds of things that would be
hashed out should this process proceed, and I think the thing to know is that while we
were ‑‑ we’re all very committed to what we think of as education of our students,
we also had considerable disagreements and those I think will come up again and again
as we go through this process. So any disagreements that you might have we
probably have already had in our task force, but looking at the sort of hand poll, there
was no one who was perfectly satisfied. And I saw a lot of twos and threes. So I think it behooves us to try to think
this through and think it through in an incredibly collaborative way across the campus. So just want to put that out there.>>LADEN: Does anyone else want to ‑‑
>>COUMBE-LILLEY: So one of the ways I came to the committee in terms of my service, thinking
about the drivers of change. And drivers of change, political, social,
technological, they’re also a leader’s mind sets on our campus, the employees’ mindsets,
market requirements. And I think about these things. I also think about the fact that we’re having
conversations about people that are not in the room, potentially not even born yet. And a cursory reading of education week, which
is essentially the weekly newspaper K through 12 education in this country, we’re given
a very clear picture of who we will be working with education next deals with K through 12
policy discusses these student experiences of the students we’re actually thinking about
our programs for. They have yet to come here. The drivers of change, just the ones we know
now. So within the room ‑‑ and I want to echo
what you said ‑‑ that we had significant differences in how we approach this. For myself it came in specifically from the
drivers of change, the fact that information technology and the impact of technology is
included directly in this report reflects the conflict. It was discussed. But we reached a conclusion that we present
to you. So I just would like to let you know, like
Lisa said, that yeah, we had it out and there was no agenda coming in other than what’s
the best picture for our people that aren’t here yet because the changes we’re talking
about won’t affect students we have today. It’s the ones we’re going to have tomorrow. And this is the big idea, I think, for mainly
thinking about the changes in front of us.>>LADEN: Why don’t we open it up to questions. So if you’re ‑‑ if you would like to
ask a question in person, please use the mic. You can also say something on the Google forms
and we’ll get it up here and I can answer some of those if there are questions coming
from the mic.>>AUDIENCE MEMBER: I want to piggyback off
of what John said. So I have a K through 12 background, worked
on investing and innovation grant prior to coming here. We looked at a 16 pathway pipeline and we
actually looked at dispositions rather than skills. And I’m curious did that come up at all. So why skills and maybe not dispositions or
practices or mind sets. Just curious. Or if it did come up, where does it sit in ‑‑
thank you.>>FREEMAN: Well, thank you for that question. I think again that’s a ‑‑ that particular
sort of conceptual approach didn’t come up in our conversations, as I’m recalling it. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be part
of few future conversations. And I think part of this is just ‑‑ part
of what the report is meant to do and what this session is meant to do is really just
to get the conversation started across the campus to get people thinking about what report
do they think might be appropriate for general education. And I mean, one of the things I would say
in like the general dissatisfaction about general education seems to in large part derive
from the fact that it often just seems to be a kind of grab bag of courses, I’m going
to take one from here, one from here, one from here, without there being any sort of
metacognitive development around that, like what’s the purpose of general education, how
might these feel to be related, and I think that’s one of the things we were trying to
get at by not breaking it down by disciplines. So it could be dispositions. It could be capacities. It could be skills. I think that’s a conversation to be hashed
out in the future. But I think again this is trying to get folks
on campus to think about what they think we should be talking about when you talk about
general education, whether or not the campus goes forward with anything at all or whether
it’s like, nope, too difficult a conversation to have, we’re going to back away. So that that’s the provost. That will be up to her and her process, but
we were just tasked with putting some thoughts out there about it.>>LADEN: I would say on this sort of issue
of skills versus capacities versus dispositions, it seems to me there’s sort of two different
positions we as a campus would have to make here. One is do we want to switch our general education
curriculum from a model that is basically a distributional requirement model that is,
teach the stuff we’re already teaching and make sure students take a wide variety of
them. That’s the standard way to do it. There are a hundred reasons why that’s a good
thing. Or do we want to imagine a curriculum that’s
a very different kind of curriculum that’s aimed at teaching things that we all teach
but being much more intentional about teaching those things as opposed to the subject matter
that we tend to focus on when we teach in higher education. And if we go the second route, then there’s
a second conversation about well, what exactly are those things. How do we carve out that space. Is it best to think of them as dispositions,
capacities or skills. What’s the difference between them in various
theoretical and educational literatures. What is it that we’re getting at here? And then on those, which of the ones that
we are actually either equipped to teach or have the capacities to teach or the right
kinds of things to teach in something that looks like a college classroom. So there are a lot of things that are really
really useful skills to have in life that I assume none of us feel like it’s either
our job to teach or that we’re going to be good at teaching or that particular form of
a three‑hour week meeting with a set of students and assignments and things is the
right space in which to learn those things. And so, you know, maybe those are things we
ought not to have in our pile, whatever that pile is, and other things maybe we do. But I think so there are these two conversations
and we don’t have to get into the weeds of the second one until we have seen whether
we want to go that route at all and think about what the virtues and vices of doing
so are.>>COUMBE-LILLEY: So thank you. Can I continue?>>THOMAS: Just a brief point. I think that part of our discussion was sort
of a continual oscillation between the notion of incremental change and something that might
be more radical and then try to think through the implications of both. And that’s not completely resolved.>>So thank you for your question. So I’m ‑‑ one of my professors, Professor
Thorkildsen is here, studied education psychology in my doctorate. I’m very proud of that. The question about this position I think is
very important. It raises to me even two larger issues as
far as I’m concerned. The first is the necessary information that
we require from the diversity of sources to actually educate professoriate and the decision
is our institution about the possibilities about our future. Those things. Second thing, what’s also missing from the
report, somewhat contrary up here, but the second thing that’s missing is we actually
thought, as far as I know, what the impact, the quality, and the value is to our students
and to our city. On the way over here, I noted mayor Daley’s
quote, I don’t know if you know it. It’s on the corners of Halsted and Harrison. The great university makes a great city. The great city makes a university. So that was in 1963, it’s inscribed. And I’m wondering what are we doing great
already in gen ed. I did see some fours. What are we doing that’s awesome already? How can we supplement that with even better
practices and operations and how can you actually prove we’re any good. That’s actually what bothers me and the third
thing I would just like to say, tacking onto the provost, I’ve been here 15 years. 10 years as a faculty, 5 as a graduate. I’d like to think we’re going to swim in our
own stream whenever we can and measure our standards against ourselves. And I’m really frustrated as a faculty member
being equated with other institutions that don’t have our student body, don’t connect
with our city in this way. I think we need to be our own body with our
own vision for our own future for our own people. I think the gen ed is a place we can establish
ideals and do something good for our city. (Applause.)>>REED: I just want to comment along those
lines as well. I think there’s agreement among the committee
that many students and many faculty don’t see gen eds as the highlight of their experience
but rather something to just be gotten out of the way. Wouldn’t it be great if when students graduate,
they think wow, those gen ed courses, that’s really where it all came together tore me. That was amazing. I mean, that could be true for us.>>FREEMAN: Yeah, I want to ‑‑ I’ll kind
of link this to some of the questions we’re seeing that are coming over the Google map. There’s a question from a student about why
I have to do gen eds at all. Why can’t I just do my major. Of course there’s a question about whether
we can limit education to three years rather than four years and just eliminate gen ed. So the answer to that, we had that out. There are people, folks on the panel who were
advocating or at least playing devil’s advocate to eliminate gen ed and then there were those
on the panel who were fervent supporters of a general education. And I think one of the things again that we’re
trying to sort of bring to the foreground is the idea that Dale just shared, which is
gen ed shouldn’t be the thing we’re trying to just get rid of. There should be a way for students to understand
that there is a relationship and a beneficial relationship between a gen ed course and the
courses of their major. And one of the ideas floating through this
document is an idea that gen eds are not just the things that you take when you’re a freshman,
get out of the way, and never think about them again. But that they’re some kind of course ‑‑
courses that you take across your career that are constantly building a kind of network
of ideas, disciplines, concepts, so that there’s no discipline, it only works on its own terms. If you’re going to be a physicist, you have
to know some math. And if you’re going to be a chemist or a physicist,
you need to know some chemistry. So there are ‑‑ so there are a lot of
ways the disciplines are connected to each other and the idea is to build a gen ed program
that actually acknowledges that and makes us beneficial and not just we’re sending well
rounded people out into the world. That’s not entirely the point. But some of us may argue that, in fact, it
is. So I’m not dismissing that point but there
is a way to think about general education that’s not just utilitarian in that way.>>AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi. I’m Jeff Gore from the English department
and also a daughter of a 17‑year‑old. And in the last year, I have visited 15 different
institutions. And so I could say for the most part the chancellor
is right in that our gen ed programs look very similar to what a lot of other institutions
have. I can also say, however, there is a few ‑‑
I don’t know how radically they have changed this on the institutional level, but I can
say there are few that have really taken the leap to present as if they have made this
change. And I mean, one of the reasons why I think ‑‑
I mean, just starting off with the frustration that undergraduates feel about this, because
it just feels like maybe they get that it’s a distribution, but maybe it ‑‑ usually
it’s just that it’s something to get out of the way. A few institutions are able to use their gen
ed program as part of how they market the school. And they do this ‑‑ I think that the
thing that stands out when they succeed at it is that they can succeed at presenting
to a general public, people coming in from all majors, some parents who have been through
a college education, some who have not. They can present that those courses and that
experience is relevant. Now, I mean, all of us who teach gen ed classes,
we believe in our hearts that our favorite subjects are relevant. That’s why we do this thing. But the problem is it’s partially an advertising
thing, but partially it is as Tony and other people have said, it’s that it fits into other
university habits and other university needs, and it’s not really like we will say of course
it is relevant, but it’s also in part it’s a place for us to find places to put students
for a couple of years and places and jobs for faculty to do sometimes when they’re not
teaching graduate courses or their favorite courses. It’s a thing for people to do at the very
least. But it’s not always what we say it is. Some ways that this does actually work out,
one of the ‑‑ I mean, with regards to what was marketed to me, like when you go
to some of these institutions, what they’re really stepping this foot forward and when
it works, you can hear in the room that everybody goes oh, that looks interesting. And it’s not just people saying can I take
my courses at a community college and then move on. And some of the things that they do to make
it look interesting, part of it is having an experiential requirement that they really
very well pair up with that gen ed experience. So they have an experiential education requirement
that the student says, okay, I can find significant going to another country and studying there. Or I can find significant having an internship,
or I can find significant a service learning project and then connecting your gen ed course
experience to that. Something that a colleague of mine has suggested
at another institution and has generally been laughed at, is the idea that has been put
forth here of putting those gen ed courses not all at the beginning, but really in the
junior and senior year. So the freshman year, the courses that we
call gen ed that would go there might include first year writing, might include foreign
languages. Those things are skills that you’ve got to
get out of the way to be able to do a lot of different majors but also a lot of different
general education experiences. You do those, those also help to initiate
you into the university. Then you do your major, and then you come
as a person with a major to that general experience where I’ve got two or three courses where
I have relevant questions and I bring that and my study abroad or internship or service
learning to that and you’re on kind of a problem solving committee in your course. Now, this would be really really hard to do
with the way we’re doing things right now. But this is a way to think about it as a kind
of experience that everybody in the room says, oh. And so, you know, it works on general education
in terms of relevance, and one thing to ‑‑ the one thing to sell to the students is just
to say that you will, you know, take your major and you will have to be on committees
and various other ways of solving problems. Thank you.>>LADEN:Thanks, Jeff.>>REED: We did discuss experiential component
possibility, right? We’re in the city of Chicago, as John mentioned. What if some of our courses connected to some
of the successes and challenges in the city around us.>>LADEN:I just want to sort of bring in a
couple voices from the Google forum. So there are a number of questions about what
I’ll call logistics but not to dismiss it. So whether we consider how students coming ‑‑
or transferring to UIC would handle a gen ed system or whether or not, all I want to
do is my major, why do I have to do gen ed as well, questions from faculty and from others
about how does this piece of what you might see does fit with faculty, it’s also a research
university. And I think the sort of short answer to a
lot of those questions is we saw those as issues. We didn’t take them up because we didn’t take
that to be our charge. We didn’t I think have the expertise to handle
them but I think they are all really important. And once we have a vision of how perfect gen
ed system in a real world, then there is an important question about how to make that
a system that will actually work around the statistical facts of our students and our
faculty. But that again seems like a ‑‑ very important,
but downstream questions to ask. I don’t think we should cut our sales at the
beginning by saying well, we need a system that will work easily for transfer students
and four‑year students. You need a system that will equally work for
them both at the end of the day.>>AUDIENCE MEMBER: Okay. So Dave Hoffman from physics. I had an observation and then a question. So on the observational side, which is it’s
an experience of one, which I know statistically it has an error of a hundred percent, right? This was my experience, and that was that
although I only really appreciated general education about 15 years later. And I hated somehow having to take some of
these courses. Why do I have to take a history course and
a philosophy course and a ‑‑ you know. There was ‑‑ the economics course and
world religions course at the time. But I tell you, 15, 20 years later, those
are the ones that I remember more. So I just think in some of our thinking we
shouldn’t forget and also some of the students stuck in our current system, it will pay off. Even if it’s not perfect now, in 15, 20 years,
at least my experience with a huger or of a hundred percent. So that’s just an observation I would say. So we have to think short term but also long
term and I think there are some long term strengths. That’s what leads me to a question which was
alluded to a little before, which is in your deliberations did you think of any major core
things that are positive about our current gen ed system that you would want to preserve
in some way. I mean, I don’t know. Did you think about that or was that really
not part of it or maybe I’m not thinking about this in the right way at all because you’re
still anchoring yourselves to some current system. But there’s a reason we got here and it’s
not all bad. And so was that folded in or should that ‑‑
how to include that. So I guess that’s my question. Thank you.>>LADEN: Does anybody want to ‑‑
>>FREEMAN: I’ll give that one a shot. I mean, I think that one. Things that ‑‑ so, yeah, our entire gen
ed program is not to be thrown out. But I think one of the things that a lot of
us are aware is that there are a lot of faculty here who are teaching these amazing courses
under the most banal headings. And so in a certain sense, someone from marketing
might say you have a marketing and branding problem so that the kind of exciting new classes,
I’ll just point to some of them in this new engaged humanities curriculum, these are really
exciting classes. And a lot of ‑‑ a lot of the research
that our faculty do and are bringing to the fore in their courses, a lot of them are amazing
courses that they design are getting lost in this very sort of banal menu again without
any linkage whatsoever between one course and the next. And I think one of the things to think about
is how do we bring the research and all the disciplines that our faculty are doing and
the courses that they’re designing as a result to the floor. So it’s clear what the kind of work is being
done at UIC, what an amazing faculty we have and what amazing students we have engaging
with that faculty so that there’s a conversation going back and forth in these courses. And right now I think there’s a lot of dissatisfaction
that that’s not actually happening. Or if it is happening, it’s not visible. And in that sense, it’s not a felt effect,
either for faculty or for students. So I think that’s one of the things we want
to think about in rethinking gen ed. We have a lot of great faculty. We have amazing students, why is there so
much dissatisfaction. Part of it is not having that sort of reflective
experience of what are we actually doing, how are we doing it.>>LADEN: I’ll just add is there a suggestion
that this model or other forms of gathering input would involve I think ‑‑ an important
part of it is figuring out what people like about the gen ed, what they thought of it
and you know, we talk about not just serving students but other stakeholders, including
alumni in part to get people to say well, I didn’t get it at the time but now 15 years
later I see this was really really valuable. So yeah, I think it’s part of a larger conversation.>>THOMAS: And a huge part of this, of course,
is the quality of the instruction and of the methods that are used in the course itself
and not something that ‑‑ the content or the curricular category that they fall
into.>>LADEN: Yeah, following up with that, I
think in another way just to think about this is that there is ‑‑ the way you divide
up the categories. There’s the way the courses are taught, and
there’s the administration of that whole system. And you can think about our current system
as succeeding or failing on any of those grounds and that only maybe some of them need to get
changed. But to get all of them right, it’s probably
better to start from the ground up maybe. I’m just missing a huge cost to doing that. But you can have the best articulated system
in the world, but if you don’t retrain the faculty to teach classes in a way that focused
on that, it’s not going to matter. And if you teach the ‑‑ we train the
faculty but you don’t have an administrative system that keeps those new courses in place
and doesn’t allow departments to overload them with courses that they already have on
the books, it’s not going to work. And so as you think through this, we need
to think about all those things and not get hung up on well, I really care about division
of the categories. That has to be eloquent and perfect and ignore,
it’s all going to go wrong if you don’t have the right administrative structure around
it or the right teaching support.>>COUMBE-LILLEY: So just to add to that,
we think that there are fantastic faculty here. Try this on your own. What if when we hire every single faculty
member in the future that’s going to engage with gen ed, that they serve the one year
apprenticeship on how to deliver a kick ass gen ed program working with highly skilled
existing faculty but dedicated to an unbelievable gen ed expression. And I think this is also tied to this idea
that we had the separate entity on our campus that could harvest the best practices that
we currently have.>>AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you. I have a number of thoughts swimming around
in my head. But I think I’ll start here. And that’s to say when I teach ‑‑ history
272, 20th century China, I don’t think gen ed versus major. I have everybody in that class from business
to nursing to teaching of history to history majors, to ‑‑ they’re all there. And I think we need to remember that gen ed
isn’t something separate but it’s something we all do and we do it together with students
who are in our majors and those majors bring something to the other students and the other
students I think also bring something to those majors. The other thing I was thinking about early
on, particularly in light of the discussion of skills, analyzing arguments, largely evidence. We all do this. But if we’re on humanities, social sciences,
natural sciences, we do this differently. And so we can’t make one mush. Of course, when we do that, I think it’s really
important that students are exposed to the methods arguments and evidence in different
fields, different disciplines, because it helps them to be flexible thinkers and it
helps them to understand maybe how somebody else would legitimately think about a problem
or a question differently than they might do. So I think that’s quite important. I also wanted to say, well, I think it’s fantastic
to have these conversations and I think we need to have conversations about teaching,
too, to have everybody start to teach in the same way is not necessarily going to be a
good thing. I remember about 15, 20 years ago, I was writing
an application for a teaching award that somebody had dreamed up in the college. And what I was impressed by when the student
letters came in from my department, is how they got very different things and very different
instructors with very different teaching styles. And so I think there’s an element of that
that we want to retain. That doesn’t mean everybody should just go
back to doing things the way they have been doing. But I think that that kind of diversity too
is very valuable. And I’ll stop there. But I just wanted to throw a few of those
ideas out while they were burning hot.>>REED: I wanted to comment and thank you
for that comment on teaching styles. Ed had put a question or comment in here about
learner centered instruction is something that’s important. And I think as different faculty members,
we certainly have different approaches and personalities that we teach, but it would
really be wonderful if we can choose from all the best options as opposed to just sort
of settling what we happen to know already. So I think we have an opportunity as a university
to share our best practices with each other that we have not fully explored so far.>>LAURITO: I would like to also thank you
for the comment about interdisciplinary and students benefitting from being with other
majors because that’s something that we talked a lot about. It’s especially important for me. I’m in a very interdisciplinary field and
I see the benefits of being exposed to the ways other disciplines or other majors think
about problems and approach those problems and how they, apply many ‑‑ the same
approach in like how do you think about cost and effect, but they may be thinking about
it in a different way. And I think that’s one of the things that
we talked about. And I especially value about our conversations.>>AUDIENCE MEMBER: I teach a course on civil
and materials engineering. I think everybody agrees that gen eds are
important. Nobody actually thinks that we have to take
them away. And most people agree that we need to realign
them to make sure that they serve the purpose, they cover the topics and skills that they’re
supposed to cover. My question is whether the panel looked into
the optimum level of gen ed courses in terms of number of hours that we have to offer. When I started actually here at UIC, I know
that in addition to two English courses, 160 and 161, the requirement was five gen ed courses
that one course for them actually even counted to actually two different categories. So technically our student actually could
just get by by taking four gen ed courses plus two English courses. Now the department is six. I have a quick search through the IDHC programs
that they’re approved that are basically in Illinois. I’ve seen many program that actually have
approval the requirement is only 16 hours of gen ed courses so I don’t know ‑‑
I wouldn’t say that 16 hours is optimal. I don’t say that 24 hours is optimal but I
know that this actually kind of puts burden and puts pressure on departments because we
have to satisfy certain required courses for the industry that we are ‑‑ our graduates
are serving and they’re asking us to offer courses in those and there is no way actually
for us to offer them because 24 hours is dedicated to gen ed. It’s important but I’m saying is there anyway
we can have the two in alignment. We can look into the number of hours they
offer.>>OGUT: Yeah, I’m going to come to addressing
your question before that I just want to say something. Dave Hoffman is my best friend, period, my
best friend in the whole world. And every evening we have a dedicated, at
least half an hour where we talk in our safe space. Nobody knows about what we talked about. (Laughter). But apparently we’re going to have a lot more
conversations about this. Dave just said that the best things that he
remembers from his undergraduate is, you know, the ‑‑ and I agree with what he’s saying,
why he had to learn history and everything. But I’m going to make a counter argument. Again, it’s a data point of one, but I am
so glad that I was able to take metabody theory of solids and real analysis in undergraduate
because that helps me immensely in the kind of research that I do, and it affects the
grants that I bring to UIC and the research that I’m able to provide for my students. So the thing that I’m trying to say here,
the gen ed courses that you take, and I am not at all arguing that we should not be having
them, are always coming at the expense of something. Just to give you an idea as addressing, physics
BS degree is 120 credits. 80 of them only are in physics. So just to give you an idea, you know, I said
this in our ‑‑ in a meeting. I mean, one of the most ‑‑ electromagnetism
is one of the most fundamental theories of physics, classical physics, built 150 years
ago or more. One of the tenets is that a charged particle
radiates. I’m not able to teach that to my students
because the part where I’m supposed to teach it is in the second part of a course, which
they are not even required to take. And when I found out about this, I said, why
can’t I teach this? How can a student who gets a bachelor of science
from UIC not in principle have to learn radiation? It’s because there’s so many courses to take. So nobody doubts the value of gen ed in terms
of making a well‑rounded person. I ‑‑ I’m ‑‑ during the course of
those five months with my colleagues, I actually had very interesting conversations with my
wife. I did not do gen ed. I did not take Turkish history, Turkish language
in my institution. All my courses were all physics. I’m actually very happy that I had that chance. For some reason I don’t think I’m not well
rounded. You know, I might be full of myself, but I
think (laughter) we should have always be expecting everything to come from the lectures,
from the courses that we take. We make ourselves well rounded in many different
ways. I mean, this idea in the ’90s, nowadays I
think for a student to make themselves well rounded, there are so many different routes. The thing that I want to bring is exactly
addressing. This was the part that I somehow contributed. Giving the departments more freedom in determining
what a good education means, rather than a set of values that applies to a very general
crowd, but I might have different needs as far as addressing my physics or chemistry
students’ needs. I’m not overlooking their well roundedness,
but I also want to be able to teach them something that I believe that a physics undergraduate
student with a degree from UIC should know. And I’m not able to do that right now. So this is addressing not general ‑‑
I don’t want to take gen ed from UIC in any way, shape or form, but I also should have
some freedom to be able to teach my students what I believe is important in their major. And that needs to be kind of balanced. It’s kind of almost addressing, it’s a very
small set of students, but it’s addressing a minority of students that actually need
this type of higher learning in their own fields, not necessarily for the general crowd
but whatever reform we make in gen ed should somehow address those people that are on the
margins. And this is a funny kind of margin. Margin ‑‑ marginalized students who really
want to learn a lot more in their major.>>LADEN: I think you have two different ‑‑
again two different questions, I’m a philosopher, I always divide things, I make distinctions. Two different questions here that are important. One is the logistical one of there are only
so many hours we can require our students to take and so they ‑‑ you know, adding
gen ed takes away from other things they can do. Adding requirements in majors takes away from
things they can do and so on. So there’s a balancing act there. But part of the way we begin to figure this
out is to articulate to ourselves more clearly what it is we’re doing in educating our undergraduates
generally and what function gen ed plays in that role. So that you can then think about how ‑‑
whether gen ed is balancing the work in a major or enhancing the work in a major or
doing something different. And so I think both of those conversations
have to happen. We need to spend more time on what we are
doing rather than the numbers because we work at that level of detail.>>AUDIENCE MEMBER: That’s why I said we need
to find out what’s the optimum level.>>LADEN: But that’s going to depend on what
it is we think we’re doing and it’s probably going to be good enough, is the best we’re
going to get.>>AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi, Cynthia Kline, I lead
the office of sustainability here. And I do commend you on your work and the
ideas you brought up. I would be a sample of two with David in terms
of a lot of what I learned came in to serve me later in my career. I’m an environmental scientist but have ‑‑
I need all kinds of skill sets to do the work I do here. And we have many students that are interested
in solving these big world issues and they need the skill sets to think about them across
whatever discipline they’re in, we argue for that across the disciplines to be able to
understand the world in such a way that they can think about it. Those are the ideas that you did bring up
earlier, so the system is thinking and the critical issues that we have at the time. So I also wanted to share that our office
in terms of assessing or the university as sustainability have done inventories of the
curriculum using the minimal information that’s available in the course catalog to try to
categorize courses as to whether they’re related or focused on the sustainability issues and
things like that. We’ve also done surveys and if that’s of any
use as this process goes on, we’re happy to share that information more broadly. Thank you.>>We have about ten minutes left. Is there any questions from the google doc?>>FREEMAN: Well, there seem to be a lot of
questions about transfer students, so I just want to say that we have a variety of articulation
agreements that I think are particular to the entire state. So any kind of gen ed curriculum that we would
design needs to be sensitive to that issue. It can’t be a system that denies access
to transfer students. So that’s not ‑‑ that’s kind of ‑‑
wasn’t our charge, but I think it’s something when we talk about accessibility, our access
to education, understanding that a lot of our students, our transfer students, are taking
the equivalent of gen eds at community colleges, not only is something that has to get hashed
out and negotiated by looking at what those articulation agreements are, seeing what we
come up with and seeing if those things can speak to one another, but it certainly can’t
be something that denies access. I think that’s basically state mandated. So even if we wanted to do it, we couldn’t. So just want to be clear about that.>>AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi, Stacey, I apologize. I haven’t read the report. But how I’m hearing you talk about this, it
feels sort of very unidimensional, like it’s a system, one system for a set of categories
or system of skills and I’m wondering if you talked about creating a multi dimensional
system so that you can even think about mapping pathways for students around like curricularly
you want people to do physics so could there be a pathway that they’re getting some of
the dispositions through the physics classes, for example, so students could kind of choose
kind after constellation of courses which gets to your point about building on each
other, right? But it would have to be a multi dimensional
system so I just wasn’t hearing that and I was wondering that was part of your conversation.>>LADEN: I mean, it was a little bit. I think again we were tasked not with coming
up with a proposal of a system but some ideas. And so I ‑‑ I mean, as we were developing
these ideas, sort of more full blown system that occurred to me that I sort of liked was
one that would involve both something like skill based courses that you would take early
on and then these ‑‑ a kind of cap stone project course at the end that would have
this function of collaborating across disciplines. But that requires ‑‑ you know, there’s
no point in getting a bunch of undergraduate students to collaborate across disciplines
unless they have training in those disciplines. So that’s a thing to have them do at the end
of that major not at the beginning but it needs into why should a physics major take
a gen ed course because what you want to do is see how bringing physics into something
other than a physics class is a useful thing and how to do that and how that’s different
than just answering physics questions in a physics class. So I think a system that is multi dimensional
would be a way to think about it.>>COUMBE-LILLEY: So there was an idea floated
which was thinking about the charge of where would we be in 2045 with the use of artificial
intelligence, with the use of technologies that we know about now. So imagine a gen ed portal where a student
enters the gen ed portal and then once they’re introduced to what it is that’s in front of
them, that they follow a redactive learning process within a gen ed program that could
take them across disciplines, okay, and there’s some big implications for that because you
might not need a faculty member. Just saying.>>LADEN: Anyone else want to weigh in? Or any questions from the Google ‑‑ yeah.>>LAURITO: So I ‑‑ I wanted to go back
to Lisa’s point about accessibility and the question about transfer student. And even though that’s something that it’s ‑‑
we’re not tasked to design specific process or design a specific system, we did try to
be mindful of the students that we have at UIC and the students that will keep coming
to UIC. And I think in the process moving forward
we should have that as something that’s central. And in thinking about that, about transfer
student, keeping accessibility and not adding additional burdens to ‑‑ of students
that are coming in maybe from community colleges or from other situations, I think that would
be important.>>LADEN: Any final comments before we wrap? So I want to thank everybody for participating
in this. I hope this conversation goes forward in this
kind of spirit that it happened today, as the provost announced what the next steps
are. I also want to put in a plug for something
that I’m doing not connected to this but related to topic wise just to see if there are any
volunteers. I run a center that does work in philosophy
of education and we’re thinking about a project that would involve teaching in gen ed classes
and we were trying to recruit faculty here and at Wisconsin Madison who would regularly
teach large intro classes that count for gen ed credit who would like to think about new
ways of teaching them that would make them more based on a set of skills, teaching a
set of skills or capacities that you think students would want to learn and what that
would look like. So if you’re at all interested in getting
involved with that, you can come talk to me now or email me, [email protected] if you’re not
in the room. And thank you, everybody, for coming. (Applause.)

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