UNCP Faculty Corner

General Education

This is a discussion of General Education at UNCP.

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9 Comments »

  1. Regarding Dr. Litty’s comments:

    1) It’s important to understand what the verb “need” really means (opening sentence of her comment). I believe Dr. Farley addresses this perfectly in his response, namely, that the nature of laboratory coursework executed properly is perhaps the most effective means of achieving general education goals.

    2) The typical lab experience of high school students nowadays, particularly in the regions of the country from which the vast majority of our students hail, is quite different from the one Dr. Litty describes. If giving students laboratory experiences in general education coursework at UNCP that are more and/or better than what they may have encountered in secondary school settings is considered “remediation”, then I’m all for it.

    3) Not all lab work takes place within the confines of the traditional laboratory, and the sort of activity Dr. Litty recalled from a “non-laboratory” science course she appreciated being able to take in college (field work examining acid rain impact in NYC) is a great example of the type of non-major, general education course-related lab activity I referenced in my original post. It wouldn’t be effective to conduct such field work at every class meeting, of course, and the meetings before and after an outing like this could be very nicely utilized to discuss relevant background and theoretical issues, perform control experiments to demonstrate and investigate the operant processes, analyze data and/or samples collected during the field work, etc.

    4) Based on her concluding paragraph, it seems Dr. Litty believes there is some disciplinary-biased motivation to this issue of requiring lab coursework in our general education curriculum. No way! Those supporting such a change are simply looking for a better way to achieve the stated objectives of our general education program. When it comes to problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, the vast majority of educators agree that “lab work” in the broadest sense is one of the very best tools in the box.

    Comment by Paul Flowers — April 12, 2009 @ 8:55 am

  2. There are many papers demonstrating that hands-on activities greatly improve student learning. In science, these activities take place in labs. Thus, labs are beneficial even to students who aren’t science majors. In fact, non-majors probably benefit more from labs in gen ed courses than majors, because the majors will have many lab-related courses later in their curriculum. This is why many universities have gen ed requirements that call for at least one lab science (and my undergrad school had labs in nearly all gen ed science courses).

    The hands-on learning can be increased by allowing students to think through for themselves how to do the activity. This takes time, commonly more than a single “lecture” period permits. In addition, field trips are advantageous in some sciences and travel time has to be included in class time. We can’t ask students here to take the subway to the American Museum of Natural History on their own to obtain information outside the lecture period.

    There are certainly practical issues associated with requiring some labs in gen ed here. Professor Flowers has suggested that creative approaches can put lab work into the “lecture” section. Some of these could also be overcome if we would not mix gen ed students and beginning majors in the same intro courses (I’m sure this is a problem that exists outside the sciences, too.)

    At any rate, we should be thinking about how to improve student learning here at UNCP and science labs are one positive approach.

    Comment by Martin Farley — February 12, 2009 @ 3:38 pm

  3. Laboratories shouldn’t be required for majors that don’t need them. Is high school education so bad nowadays that we have to remediate everyone we’ve admitted? I completed my biology, chemistry, and physics labs in 9th, 10th, and 11th grade (earth science labs in junior high) and had room for a meteorology elective. At university I appreciated being able to take non-laboratory science requirements (rather than take survey courses with labs all over again), such as “Limits of the Earth” (where we also walked around our New York City campus examining the ravages of acid rain) and “Climate, Weather & Life” (which included physics problems).

    Lab courses were for the various science majors and pre-med students.

    Many of us think are disciplines are so precious. If I had my way, every student would have to take a course that would make him/her media literate, along the lines of “Understanding Media.” It wouldn’t be a course designed for my majors. My majors end up media literate simply by completing the major……..

    Comment by Jamie Litty — February 10, 2009 @ 11:29 am

  4. Perhpas you could offer labs which would meet once a week on Mon, Wed or Fri. This was done at my undergraduate institution for general requirements in science. Also during my graduate studies I instructed an Art Appreciation course, “Visual Concepts in Art” for Non-majors that meet Tu/Thur for lecture and Fridays for a Lab. Lab was the studio component of this course where students received hands-on practicle application on key concepts presented in lecture.

    Comment by Julie Floss — February 6, 2009 @ 7:59 am

  5. How about a topic about service learning, relation to the community and our university mission…. lots of issues, but maybe all intersecting at the topic of service learning.

    Comment by David Dran — December 28, 2008 @ 10:07 am

  6. Yes I would agree with one lab class, with letting the student choose which one.

    Comment by jose d'arruda — December 13, 2008 @ 1:07 pm

  7. I support this idea for all the right reasons, but don’t believe lab courses in the traditional format (which are well-suited to the needs of science majors) are the way to go for general education purposes. Better suited for gen ed, I think, would be revised 3 hour courses with “built-in” lab work designed to accommodate our existing scheduling format (e.g., to 75 min meetings weekly would do) and typical student preferences in this regard, and which wouldn’t require altering the Gen Ed hour requirements, just the course identities. The lab space issue might also be addresed if the custom designed labs were appropriate for conduct in regular classrooms, a challenging but tractable goal. UNCP did, in fact, participate in an NSF-supported curriculum experiment in this vein several years back (as a partner with St. Andrews) with mixed results. Libby has nailed the critical impediment, I think — faculty resources. Even with the most altruistic science faculty imaginable and the most creative scheduling efforts of science department chairs possible, adding a lab requirement to general education would absolutely require more personnel. A wildcard in this scenario: graduate student assistants!

    Comment by Paul Flowers — December 13, 2008 @ 7:55 am

  8. I’m not against this idea at all–I can certainly see the value in science lab courses–but it seems there would be a few more obstacles.

    1. Student schedules. In recent years (perhaps it’s now this way everywhere) more and more UNCP students seem to want take a full 15 hour load but also want to have classes that meet on only Tues/Thurs with no classes meeting later than 2PM. It would seem difficult to fit in labs with that sort of schedule, or at least difficult to fit in the sort of long and fairly demanding afternoon/evening labs I remember taking as an undergraduate. Perhaps something more abbreviated is being suggested here though.

    2. Articulation agreement. Are most NC community colleges able to provide sufficient lab courses? If not, how would we handle transfer students who have not taken any science labs?

    Of course, faculty resources needed to teach the labs might be an issue but sparse faculty resources seem to be a permanent part of life now. All in all, I wonder if it might be more feasible to think about requiring one, not two, science labs as part of GenEd?

    Comment by Libby Denny — November 30, 2008 @ 9:48 am

  9. I really believe we must begin thinking of requiring Laboratories as part of the science requirements if we are to be serious about producing students who understand what science is all about. The two major obstacles will be space for labs and making several 3 hour courses into 4 hours and adjusting the GE requirements accordingly. This would mean students would have to take Physical Science labs, Astronomy Labs, Biology Labs geology Lab, etc.

    Comment by jose darruda — November 24, 2008 @ 3:05 pm


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