General Education Reform at UK

Since November 2005, a great deal of activity has surrounded the reform of our general education program. As a faculty, we have agreed that skills such as critical thinking, writing, reasoning, ethics, and global understanding are necessary for our students to compete in a global marketplace, participate in democratic self-governance, and live a well-intentioned and meaningful life. Yet they often graduate still rooted in a culture of opinion rather than reason and evidence.

A well-designed general education curriculum allows students to recognize the value of critical thinking and gives them the necessary skills to analyze information critically. Witnessing how scholars and experts struggle to make sense of the issues provides students with an opportunity to see first-hand how critical thinking skills can solve complex problems.

There is a compelling need for students to understand multiple perspectives inherent in different disciplines; and to identify the commonalities and differences among those perspectives. Knowing about biology, history, or psychology is not the same as knowing how biologists, historians, and psychologists come to know and how they think. It is the latter that serves general education.

With all this in mind, the University adopted in May 2009 a new general education program, named UK Core, anchored by a set of four learning outcomes.
Taken together, the program learning outcomes articulate what the University expects the core curriculum to contribute to students' undergraduate education. In other words, they constitute our expectations for what students will be able to DO when they graduate.

In May 2011, the University Senate articulated a two-fold contingency prior to implementation in Fall 2011. Senate would need (1) assurance from the Provost that the resources necessary for a successful implementation of the GenEd Program would be available; and, (2) evidence that prototype GenEd courses could be successfully developed and taught. The evidence for the latter contingency would be both qualitative, elicited from faculty who taught pilot GenEd courses 2010, and quantitative (assessment of learning data, as well as teaching evaluations and other survey measures).

Provost Subbaswamy issued a call to the Faculty for proposals to develop pilot courses across all ten areas of the approved curriculum. Sixty-six faculty submitted proposals, of which sixty course projects were funded. Just over a third of these pilot courses were taught in Spring 2010. We will work closely with the Office of Assessment to help collect the assessment data and prepare an analysis for presentation to Senate in the fall of 2010.

The Senate Council, working in tandem with the University Senate, constituted GenEd vetting teams and charged those teams with reviewing the 60 pilot GenEd courses and to make recommendations on approval to the University Senate at its December meeting.

Each vetting team was composed of seven faculty members: six disciplinary experts from departments aligned with the curricular focus of the learning outcome and a team convener. UK Core, the official name of the General Education Program, was implemented for students entering UK in the Fall 2011 semester.

We are making great progress on developing a vibrant General Education program for the University of Kentucky: a program that sets expectations for student performance and has in place the assessment framework to measure their performance and provide information for continuous improvement.