Shenandoah University improved its undergraduate general education program
(soon to be referred to as “ShenEdge”) this year, improving communication among faculty and administrators, and piloting a new town hall event to tie the general education classes together. Under the leadership of Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs & Director of General Education Amy Sarch, Ph.D., and incorporated into the undergraduate curriculum, general education provides students with the knowledge, skills and opportunities to think critically, communicate effectively and perform creatively in a changing and diverse world.
Seven domains currently make up Shenandoah’s general education curriculum: 1) effective communication; 2) artistic expression; 3) quantitative literacy; 4) the nature of science; 5) moral reasoning; 6) the individual in society; and 7) the individual in the world. These domains cross the university’s four undergraduate schools (arts and sciences, business, conservatory and nursing) helping students develop both an awareness of the world around them and the ability to perform effectively in their communities. Students must complete at least one three-credit course in each domain for a total of 30 general education credits.
“When I came on as director, general education wasn’t exactly uniting the schools,” said Dr. Sarch. “In fact, it appeared they were butting heads.”
Yet Sarch had learned valuable lessons while administering the Going Global First-Year Seminar (FYS) program that she felt could be adapted directly to general education.
“I spent a lot of time working on FYS,” said Sarch. “So once FYS found its groove, I recognized many elements that could be used to improve general education. I realized faculty members who taught FYS courses regularly talked to one another, met for workshops and exchanged information.”
Sarch and the general education committee conducted surveys with students and faculty to better understand issues of governance, gaps in communication and perceptions among faculty and students about general education. The committee hosted discussions to learn more about student and faculty perceptions about the domains. A General Education Summit in May 2015, attended by 120 faculty, staff and students, helped address issues related to what general education should look like on campus. Three major themes emerged and Debra Humphreys, Ph.D., senior vice president of academic planning and public engagement at the American Association of Colleges and Universities, was invited to conduct focus groups with faculty and staff to delve deeper into those themes. With a combination of surveys, focus groups, and summit discussions, the committee developed a creative approach to general education that was piloted in spring 2016 with a culminating town hall held in April. Seven participating general education classes representing each domain approached a series of social issues from their class’s academic perspective and came together to discuss their perspectives with other students and experienced leaders from the Winchester community.
And the general education revision process is evolving with new collaborations, creative pilots, and emerging curriculum design ideas.
“This is an exciting time, because we are shifting the way we are approaching gen ed,” said Sarch. “We’re starting to think about gen ed as a collaborative, meaningful, creative program that integrates our undergraduate programs and showcases the uniqueness of the Shenandoah University experience.”