My interest in general education began in earnest when I took part in a longitudinal interview study of student perceptions of their learning in general education at the University of North Dakota.* This eye-opening experience, in which I interviewed the same 12 students every semester during their time at UND, drew me into faculty development work as well as the general education reform process. The Assessment Update piece cited below describes how our findings in the study led to an iterative series of assessment projects which in turn built momentum and strengthened the rationale for reform. I also believe reform became more possible on our campus because we maintained that this cycle of data driving change should be part of the structure of the new program. As a historian I compared the new framing as being similar to the US Constitution -- a living document that could and should be amended when the need becomes apparent. The notation of embedding a mechanism for change in the program made it easier for people to accept that while everything proposed was not perfect, it was a good place to start.
The other articles on GE reform describe an open, intentional process which is so much more than just a means to an end. When I first became immersed in the work of our taskforce I half-jokingly suggested we could save a lot of time and effort by adopting whole-cloth a program that was working well at a comparable institution. It didn’t take long to gain an appreciation of the process itself. In hindsight I think I started to recognize how the campus could move forward through a dialectic of sorts. Tension should be expected and embraced—we wanted people to care deeply about student learning and to have strong opinions and ideals. Questions should be welcomed and, when possible, addressed with research. Communication about the process needed to be multifaceted, strategic and purposeful. Acknowledging that it is not possible for the resulting program to make everyone perfectly happy, we committed to making a fair, good-faith effort for anyone who cared to engage to do so in a meaningful way. This approach made it more likely that the resulting program would be implemented effectively: the process has tremendous impact on the outcome.
The experience of being part of large scale change also led to insights on faculty leadership and leadership development. The articles below note the essential need for faculty to act as institutional stewards. Industry trends that pressure faculty to be less engaged in guiding the direction our institutions take should concern us all. The faculty is core to higher education, and increasingly the institutional response to external pressures has greatly hindered the ability of faculty to positively influence decision-making. If institutions are to move forward in ways that genuinely support the academic enterprise, faculty must be at the table, empowered to affect change. Research on new faculty attitudes speaks directly to this as we seek to find professional development approaches that encourage new faculty to embrace campus citizenship and be effective agents of change.
A last thought regards assessment. My colleague Joan Hawthorne, with whom I collaborate extensively, oversees our assessment efforts at UND. From her I have learned to value homegrown assessments both as a means of effectively gauging student learning and as a form of faculty development. In developing ways of assessing our new general education program, which we call Essential Studies, we worked with faculty to create performance tasks. The design process offered many of the same benefits associated with the reform process: faculty had a stake in their creation and implementation, and also in finding out what they could tell us about student learning in the program. The most recent assignment we developed for assessment of our Essential Studies program is included in the DPQ assignment library (a great resource) and that is linked below as well.
Hawthorne, J. and A. Kelsch, “Closing the Loop: How an Assessment Project Paved the Way for GE Reform,” Assessment Update 24: 1 (2012). http://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1013482
Kelsch, A., J. Hawthorne and T. Steen, “Putting Learning First: How Communication Shaped One Campus’s Reform,” in A Process Approach to General Education Reform: Transforming Institutional Culture in Higher Education. S Gano-Phillips and Barnett, R. eds. (Atwood Publishing, 2010).
Hawthorne, J., A. Kelsch and T. Steen, “Making General Education Matter: Structures and Strategies,” Integrated General Education: New Directions for Teaching and Learning #121, edited by Catherine Wehlberg (Anker Publishing, 2010). http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/tl.385/abstract
Kelsch, A. and J. Hawthorne, "Preparing New Faculty for Leadership: Understanding and Addressing Needs,” To Improve the Academy: A Journal of Educational Development 33:57-73 (2014). http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/tia2.20006/abstract
Kelsch, A. and Hawthorne, J. “Leadership Development through Role-Play,” Academic Leader (Fall 2014). http://www.magnapubs.com/newsletter/academic-leader/128/Leadership_Development_through_Role_Play-13170-1.html
Gano-Phillips, S., R. Barnett, A. Kelsch, J. Hawthorne, N. Mitchell, and J. Jonson. “Rethinking the Role of Leadership in General Education Reform.” Journal of General Education 60:1 (2011). http://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ956185
GE assessment assignments
DPQ Assignment Library http://www.assignmentlibrary.org
Carmichael, J., Kelsch, A., Kubatova, A., Smart, K., & Zerr, R. (2015). Assessment of essential studies quantitative reasoning skills. University of North Dakota. http://www.assignmentlibrary.org/assignments/559c3986afed17c65f000003
*Although the General Educational Longitudinal Study is dated it remains a good model. The GELS report is available here: http://und.edu/academics/registrar/_files/docs/essential-studies/general-education-longitudinal-study.pdf