Reimagining General Education at Bellevue College

General Education refers to the program of study aimed at instilling the knowledge, skills and abilities that will benefit students as persons, regardless of their career skills. Much of what we teach as General Education will also benefit students substantially in their professional endeavors. Employers value things like critical thinking and communication skills. But General Education is where we get to focus on helping our students become life-long learners, contribute to their communities and lead flourishing lives. Our program of General Education embodies what it means to get an education at Bellevue College. As a community of educators, we have a good deal of latitude in deciding just what an education at Bellevue College means and how we will deliver on that promise.

What would a functional program of General Education look like? Of course, we do not have an administrative unit, like a department of General Education. This is not what the infusion model for General Education calls for. On the infusion model, our Gen Ed outcomes are taught across campus in a variety of programs. The infusion model is intended as an alternative means to accomplishing what we might instead do with a core curriculum taught in required courses. Adopting an infusion model for General Education still presupposes that there is a curriculum that we are teaching across our various offerings in various programs. In order to harness the diverse perspectives and strengths of our assorted disciplines, the program of study we designate as General Education might be understood in the broadest of terms. There remains much to be understood about just what an education at Bellevue College should mean and we lack a tradition of collaboration around articulating what that is or how we can most effectively teach it across our programs and disciplines.

We do have 18 Gen Ed outcomes, categorized into three major areas as summarized below:

Communication Connections Creative and Critical Thinking 
Reading  Writing  Listening  Visual  Computer Literacy Self-Assessment/Life Goals  Group Processes  Ethics  Global Citizenship  Historical and Intellectual Perspectives  Cultural Diversity  Natural Systems (Science and the Natural World)  Technology and Society   Critical Thinking/Problem Solving  Quantitative/Symbolic Reasoning  Research /Information Literacy  Scientific Inquiry (Nature of Science)  Aesthetic Awareness 
BC’s current Gen ed Outcomes

At the insistence of accreditation, we have developed sophisticated tools for assessing these Gen Ed outcomes including a broad assortment of rubrics, Canvas imbedded reporting mechanisms and sophisticated data analytics. But the data yielded is not informative, in good part because we lack a shared understanding of just what we are trying to measure.

We can better understand the gaps in our practice if we think about what a functional program of General Education would involve. For starters, those responsible for teaching our Gen Eds would have some documented expertise in the Gen Ed areas they teach, either through academic study or professional development. This would assure a shared understanding of a Gen Ed area among the faculty who teach it. Next, we might hope for some consultation and collaboration among the faculty responsible for instruction in a Gen Ed area. Faculty who teach Cultural Diversity, for instance, would regularly consult and collaborate with each other, sharing and developing curriculum and pedagogical strategies. A Gen Ed outcome that is taught across several disciplines might then be taught in a way that is mutually informed, complementary, and reinforcing. Then, faculty sharing a Gen Ed area would work together on formulating methods of measuring student learning where standards are reasonably normed and instructors can have some shared notion of how we are all measuring the same thing.

At this point we’ve identified three functional elements that constitute a model for a program of General Education:

  1. Faculty preparation for teaching in a Gen Ed area.
  2. Collaboration among faculty in sharing curriculum and teaching strategies.
  3. Coordinating and norming assessment of student learning.

Not all of our General Education outcomes are fully infused at Bellevue College. Some, like Writing and Quantitative/Symbolic Reasoning are taught in a fairly unified way in specific disciplines thanks to the degree requirements imposed by the Direct Transfer Agreement which require that all students graduating with an associate degree take two quarters of college level Composition and one quarter of college level math or logic. Reading and Writing is covered by the English department and Quantitative/Symbolic Reasoning is largely covered by Math (fewer than 100 students a year meet this requirement by taking logic in the philosophy department). In the case of these Gen Ed outcomes, instructor preparation in the outcome area is assured by the respective departments. Collaboration among faculty in developing curriculum, sharing teaching strategies and norming the assessment of student learning is supported at the department level as well.

Instruction in our non-infused Gen Ed outcomes can provide us with a functional model for developing a program of General Education for our infused outcomes. As things stand, the third element of this model exists in our practice of Gen Ed outcomes assessment. We are largely missing the first two.

As we think about how to develop a functioning model of General Education at Bellevue College, we may want to revisit the expansive list of 18 General Education outcomes. There are developed curricula for some of these, notably Scientific Inquiry, Research/Information Literacy, Cultural Diversity and Critical Thinking. It’s not clear the same can be said for things like Self-Assessment/Life Goals or Group Processes. Some of our Gen Ed outcomes are open ended in ways that don’t appear to support anything like a shared curriculum. Others, while definable and valuable, are not things we are ever likely to assure are taught generally to all of our students. A more deliberate and discerning revision of what an education at Bellevue College should mean may be called for. Perhaps our Gen Ed outcomes should be limited, developed and articulated in such a way that any faculty member could hope to explain in some detail just what it means to get an education at Bellevue College. In the absence of this, I’m not sure we really know what we are doing beyond job training. So long as we don’t really know what we are doing in the realm of General Education, odds are we won’t be doing it well.

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