General Education on the Move
—Julie D. Phillips, Senior Coordinator, General Education, Temple University
The General Education Team:
Annabelle Jellinek, Terry Halbert,
David Harrington Watt, & Julie Phillips
With the roll-out of Gen Ed scheduled for AY2008-2009, the last thing you want to hear from the director is her desire to quit her job. But then again, maybe you do.
“The courses make me want to quit and just become a Gen Ed student,” says Terry Halbert, Director of General Education and professor of Legal Studies in the Fox School of Business Management. Halbert can barely contain her enthusiasm when it comes to the more than sixty courses running as Gen Ed pilots this year. “The titles alone are irresistible,” she says as she lists some: “Doing Justice, The Bionic Human, Global Slavery, The Jazz Century, The Politics of Identity, American Revolutions, Sustainable Design, Sacred Space…” Click here to see Gen Ed's Approved Course Descriptions.
The new program focuses on building the habits of mind that will prepare students for problem-solving in a broad sense, including critical and analytical thinking, quantitative reasoning, and information literacy. Gen Ed’s goal, as distinct from the content-orientation of the Core, develops students’ abilities to approach complicated issues from multiple perspectives, and to begin to see themselves as engaged citizens of a globalized world.
Originally, many perceived the structure of Gen Ed at Temple as limiting and rigid. The guidelines approved by the Board of Trustees in December 2004 allowed only a few courses per area, indicating the large lecture format would serve as the primary delivery method, for instance. Preliminary plans also required students to complete the Gen Ed curriculum in 62 hours.
Gen Ed Course "Sacred Spaces," Taught by Jane Evans
Recent changes to Gen Ed, passed by the Board in June of this year, provide more flexibility. The explicit cap on the number of courses in Gen Ed areas has been lifted, and faculty are encouraged to experiment with classes of all sizes and delivery models. For instance, Disasters: Geology vs. Hollywood, comparing mediated depictions of natural disasters and the realities of those disasters, will be offered in a large lecture with break-outs, while World Musics & Cultures, in which students will create and perform music from around the world using traditional instruments, is a small class experience.
A new sense of trust in faculty-driven change now permeates Gen Ed, along with a new sense of partnering with the schools, colleges and departments. As Halbert describes, “It was clear that we needed to bring deans and departments back into the process. Without the deep understanding of the systems that our associate deans and chairs provide, we couldn’t manage this transformation.” But she is clear Gen Ed differs from the Core in significant ways. “We’ll be trying to find ways to make the ‘interdisciplinary sandbox’ for those who want to play in it,” she says, referring to structural supports for team teaching.
Gen Ed course "Criminal Behavior,"
Taught by Jeremy Ratcliffe
One course being re-engineered for Gen Ed is the Intellectual Heritage (IH) sequence. Renamed Mosaic, the sequence is being re-designed by IH instructors. According to Istvan Varkonyi, director of Mosaic, “Mosaic, unlike the current IH curriculum, will not be linear or chronological in its approach, but rather thematic in nature. By shaping the curriculum along thematic modules, such as “The Individual,” “Human Societies,” “The World,” and “The Cosmos,” the course will be nicely suited to experimentation with different pedagogical approaches as well as different textual forms. One clear advantage to a thematic approach will be that it facilitates the juxtaposing of critical reading materials from a cross-cultural, cross-textual, as well as a cross-century perspective.”
Halbert hopes the connections across time and space developed in Mosaic extend into the rest of the Gen Ed program. She points to another distinguishing feature of Gen Ed, as it compares with Core: “What students will be doing with the material is about as important in Gen Ed as anything else.”
She explains, “In some of the proposed courses, students will participate in debates, dance the cakewalk, create works of art, go into the city. If Gen Ed has students taking the subway to a neighborhood in South Philly, or to Elfreth’s Alley, or to the Balch Institute—it’s all good. These are the kinds of experiences that will have lasting impact.”
Provost Lisa Staiano-Coico has increased the amount available for course development. She has also streamlined the process. Funds will be made available to faculty in two payments. The Provost also established a small task force concerned with implementation and budgeting issues. “It’s going to be up to the faculty to establish standards and monitor the quality of Gen Ed, “Halbert says. “If we’re going to figure out the right assessment tools and use them effectively, we really will need Temple’s commitment to resource this—something that didn’t happen with the Core. I’m so pleased that our new leadership is making that commitment.”
Terry Halbert and David Harrington Watt
Equally exciting to Halbert are additions to the Gen Ed staff. History Professor David Harrington Watt, formerly a member of the General Education Executive Committee (GEEC) representing the College of Liberal Arts, is now Gen Ed Director with her. Watt is a nationally-recognized expert of the history of religion in the United States. His opinion of Gen Ed has changed. “I am a skeptical person by nature,” he says. “I was quite concerned about some of the directions the Gen Ed Program seemed to be taking three or four years ago, but recent decisions by President Hart and the Board of Trustees have put us on a much better footing than we were just a few months ago. I am struck by how much progress has been made in the past twelve months. Terry has done great work—she’s an unusually creative person.”
Describing himself as “a big fan” of Provost Lisa, he adds, “She is strongly committed to making Gen Ed succeed. She has impeccable academic credentials. She is brilliant and also genuinely modest. She respects the prerogatives of faculty. I was honored to be asked to join her staff.”
A third faculty member joined the Gen Ed team over the summer. Julie Phillips left her faculty position within the Department of Strategic & Organizational Communication to act as Senior Coordinator. The position allowed Phillips to combine her academic training with her non-profit administrative experiences.
Rounding out the Gen Ed staff is Annabelle Jellinek who provides part-time administrative support. Unflappable and good-natured, Jellinek was for 30 years liaison for faculty at the University of Pennsylvania dental school. She is expert at untangling logistical knots.
“I’m thrilled to be working shoulder to shoulder with a staff of this quality. This is a team from heaven,” says Halbert.
Although there is much to celebrate, the Gen Ed staff anticipates some rough patches. As the program scales up to accommodate the entering class of 2008, there will be dozens of problems to resolve, with each solution a form of compromise. Providing the right mix of courses and sections, dealing with transfer students and the special conditions at Temple’s satellite campuses—the thorny issues are everywhere.
Jellinek, who enjoys “making order out of chaos,” relishes the challenge, describing Gen Ed as a “delicious puzzle” with tremendous potential for our students. And on that, none would disagree.