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Goals of gen ed courses must be clear to students

by Richard Veilleux - October 3, 2005

The first anchor of a successful general education curriculum is a clear set of goals, translated very clearly to a university’s students, according to Andrea Leskes, a national expert on the topic.

“Clear and transparent goals must be communicated to the students so they know why they have to take a certain course,” said Leskes, vice president for education and quality initiatives for the Association of American Colleges and Universities, speaking at Konover Auditorium on Sept. 22.

“Goals are very important,” Leskes said. “They are the first anchor of general education. And the outcomes have to be developed and owned by all faculty.”

She said the goals must cover the entire spectrum of a university’s plans for general education, including programmatic goals, and said they must reflect the institution’s vision and its guiding philosophies, such as social justice, reasoned inquiry, active engagement, or service to community.

“Integration of these messages, from top to bottom, is a key to success. Coherence is characteristic of any learning program and good general education,” she said.

That coherence also must flow through course design, whether within disciplines or in interdisciplinary courses.

There must be a conscious design for education, and a logical sequence of coursework.

“It must be cumulative, built over time,” Leskes said. “Attention must be paid to how courses fit together. You have to get away from a focus on individual courses.

“General education introduces foundational skills and knowledge needed for disciplinary study,” she added. “The major takes general learning to advanced levels.”

She said she has seen interesting innovations in course development at UConn, which point to learning-centered undergraduate education – a key for the AACU, which recently accepted the University as a member.

“In the new world, the focus must be on learning. Faculty often focus on instruction, not learning. We may be close, but we’re not there yet,” she said.

“Students still walk out of lectures saying ‘I didn’t understand a word’.”

Leskes urged faculty to focus on achievement and assessment.

“We have to assess everything we’re doing, and it must be ongoing,” she said. “Assessment is an inherent part of high quality teaching – self-assessment, peer assessment, faculty assessment.”

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