Gen Ed Reform Update: Spring 2024

We are now over a year into General Education Reform at BC. Our efforts this year were preceded by initial conversations during Winter and Spring Quarters of 2023. Late in Spring Quarter 2023, a team of BC faculty and administrators attended an AAC&U institute on Assessment and Gen Ed. Over the course of that week, we developed a proposal for Gen Ed reform which we presented to the BC community on opening day in Fall Quarter 2023. 

In response to feedback from faculty we spent much of Fall Quarter examining alternative models and researching Gen Ed outcomes and practices at peer institutions in the CTC system. Over the course of Winter Quarter, we shared progress on our Gen Ed plans with divisions, on our Professional Development Day, and in other forums.

Our research on Institutional Learning Outcomes (ILOs), led by Fatma Serce, was presented in a session at the SBCTC Assessment Teaching and Learning Conference earlier this spring. Our exploration of alternative models for a program of General Education in a series of open meetings helped to clarify the principles and grounds for the broad outlines the proposal developed in the AAC&U institute.

During our Spring Quarter Campus Community Day we began work on new ILOs to replace our 18 legacy Gen Ed outcomes. We have broad consensus on 5 new ILOs:

  • Quantitative Reasoning
  • Communication
  • Critical Thinking
  • Cultural Diversity
  • Information Literacy

And we continue to explore a couple further possibilities:

  • Sustainability
  • Creative Thinking

ILO Working groups have been meeting through Spring Quarter to articulate the details of our new outcomes. In the Fall we will develop initial assessment tools for these with the plan of running pilot sections during Winter 2025. By Spring Quarter 2025, we hope to be certifying classes to teach our new ILOs.

Our Gen Ed reform effort has been governed by two guiding principles

  • Meeting accreditation expectations
  • Building a Gen Ed program that better serves our students.

Our two accreditation recommendations make some expectations for our program of General Education clear:

  • Our General Education outcomes should be ILOs, meaning that instruction in our ILOs should reach degree seeking students in all of our degree programs.
  • ILO Assessment results should be actionable, informing academic planning and resource allocation.

These recommendations make it clear that our legacy Gen Ed program is no longer viable. There is no way to incorporate meaningful instruction in 18 outcomes into all of our degree programs. And making the results of assessment actionable requires that we develop a shared conception of what we aim to measure with outcomes assessment, something which has also proved intractable with 18 variously interpreted and assessed outcomes.

We have a long-standing tradition at BC of equating Gen Ed with assessment and thinking of assessment as a mere accountability exercise for accreditation. The accreditation recommendations we are under make it clear that assessment is supposed to be a means by which we hold ourselves accountable for effective instruction in our ILOs. Assessment should serve as a means of continually improving student learning in our ILOs. For this to happen, we can no longer think of Gen Ed merely in terms of assessment, where we simply document what we assume we are already doing.

The TILT (Transparency in Teaching and Learning) model for General Education, initially formulated by our AAC&U team a year ago, aims to make General Education more transparent and meaningful for students. It has undergone a variety of modifications since then in response to faculty feedback, but its main features remain intact. A key innovation in this model is the replacement of FACT (the Faculty Assessment Coordinating Team) with Gen Ed subcommittees to the CAC (Curriculum Advisory Committee), one per ILO. This governance structure reflects and facilitates a departure from equating Gen Ed with assessment in favor of building broader programmatic functions into the governance of General Education at BC. The role of each ILO subcommittee, for their respective ILO, should include 

  • Articulating the content of the ILO, the key knowledge and skills to be taught
  • Developing assessment tools for the ILO
  • Supporting programs and faculty in adopting meaningful transparent curriculum in the ILO
  • Recommending courses for certification in the ILO to the CAC.
  • Facilitating assessment of the ILO

Currently, open ILO working groups are addressing the first two of these functions. Ultimately, ILO subcommittees should have 3-5 faculty members elected by the faculty at large.

Students typically have no awareness of our legacy Gen Ed program. Student facing language consists of one page in the catalogue, which is seldom consulted by students. General Education is typically not discussed on in classes or addressed in syllabi. We aim for our General Education ILOs to be a clear and public statement of what it means to get an education at BC.

As the name of the TILT model suggests, our hope is to make our ILOs transparent and meaningful to students and other stakeholders including parents and employers. This means instruction in ILOs should be explicit rather than implicit. Students should be informed about what skills and knowledge we aim to impart through General Education. They should know when and how these are being taught. Course syllabi for ILO certified courses should include clear discussion of ILOs and how they will be taught and assessed. We have explored implementing a badging system for students to document and share their successful mastery of our ILOs.

Our current language for claiming a Gen Ed outcome in CAC proposals specifies that 30% of a course claiming a Gen Ed outcome is devoted to teaching (not merely applying or practicing) that outcome. We are heartened to hear administration using this number as a benchmark for certification of courses in our new ILOs. This would support the time and attention needed to make instruction in our ILOs robust and meaningful for students. Our proposed governance structure for the TILT model could support accountability that CAC and FACT have been unable to provide.

The vision we’ve offered for Gen Ed reform may sound ambitious. Perhaps worthy goals should. This vision can provide a clear path for growth without being realized all at once. The spirit of this vision is to establish a tradition of collaboration across disciplines aimed at supporting meaningful student learning in the areas faculty have identified as essential to a BC education.

We appreciate that many of our faculty currently feel exhausted by the pace of change we’ve experienced at this institution in recent years. Unlike many of the changes that have been foisted on us, Gen Ed reform is entirely about teaching and learning. It speaks directly to our reason for being here, to serve our students. And it presents an opportunity for faculty to exercise some agency in doing so. For many of the participants in Gen Ed reform so far, this has been reinvigorating. We hope many more of our faculty colleagues will find it so going forward.

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