TILTing Gen Ed

I’ve been thinking and talking lots about TILTing Gen Ed. This idea might call for some elaboration. Our default is to think of TILTing assignments. We do this when we are explicit and transparent about the learning objectives of an assignment, the processes through which these are advanced and the criteria we will apply in evaluating student progress. However, it’s not assignments I’ve had in mind with talk of TILTing Gen Ed. I suppose we should TILT Gen Ed assignments, but I’ve been thinking about how to apply TILT principles to our program of General Education itself. That is, let’s clearly communicate to students what we want them to get out of BC education, how they can achieve these learning goals, and how we will assess their progress.

Applying TILT principles at the level of assignments is typically the job of individual instructors. Applying TILT principles to our program of Gen Ed is not about imposing shared TILTed Gen Ed assignments, teaching methods or grading practices on faculty. This would be at odds with academic freedom as we understand it here.

That said, applying TILT principles to Gen Ed at the level of a campus wide program does call for new kinds of collaboration. The first step may be the biggest. There is no path to clearly communicating to students what we’d like them to get out of a BC education without first developing a shared conception of our Gen Ed outcomes. Developing a campus wide infused program of General Education that is meaningful to students, where their path to attainment is clear and our methods of assessment are transparent will require that we collaborate in coming to a shared conception of our Gen Ed outcomes, engage in collaborative curriculum development, and participate in formulating, norming and applying our standards of assessment.

It would not be realistic, or even all that helpful, to have all faculty on campus fully participating in a TILTed program of General Education. The model we are proposing is opt in and it affords varying levels of participation. Still, it is important that all faculty be well informed about how we are TILTing Gen Ed.

In developing a shared conception of our Gen Ed outcomes, many will be tempted to start by defining these. I think this is a mistake. Nobody learns much about elephants by studying dictionary definitions of the word “elephant”. To come to a decent understanding of what an elephant is, you’d want to study elephants. Only once we’ve done this will be in a good position explain what an elephant is. And we want a good understanding of what an elephant is before we set out to define the word “elephant”.

Gen Ed terms like “critical thinking” or “cultural diversity” refer to programs of study that involve a range of knowledge, skills and abilities. Before we are in a position to define and explain our Gen Ed outcomes in ways that will be meaningful to students, we need to acquaint ourselves with the full scope of these KSAs and only then deliberate amongst ourselves about which we deem essential, optional or problematic for our program of General Education. It’s not likely or necessary that we reach unanimity concerning how a Gen Ed is best understood. There will have to be compromises along the way. But we should start with a wide-ranging understanding of the options and the value they represent for our students. This, I hope, will describe the sort of agenda our Gen Ed working groups pursue this Fall.