Academic journal article Peer Review

Telling Our Story of General Education Reform

Academic journal article Peer Review

Telling Our Story of General Education Reform

Article excerpt

Prior to our attendance at the Association of American Colleges and Universities' 2015 Institute on General Education and Assessment, Longwood University's general education reform committee was pleased with the progress of our efforts to revise our program, yet uncertain about how best to move forward. Late in the institute, our team met with institute faculty member Yves Labissiere to share our concerns. He recommended that we design a model that reflected the identity and spirit of our institution and encouraged us to tell the Longwood University story. This advice synced well with that of institute mentor Kathy Wolfe, who had recommended that the Longwood team scaffold a more sequential approval process for our general education reform efforts. First, we needed to gain faculty approval of student learning outcomes in the program and then design multiple curriculum models for faculty consideration. She reinforced the importance of engaging the faculty as a whole rather than through departments alone.

We were inspired to build upon our strengths and leverage our resources-an institutional commitment to the reform initiative, a strong culture of faculty leadership and engagement, and a cadre of faculty who embraced integrative learning-but also to be mindful of the entirety of our institutional context. Initially, our timeline projected approval of the new curriculum in spring 2016, with implementation in fall 2017. That is not how it turned out. Consistent with the wisdom shared at the institute, we found faculty were not ready to move quickly. We delayed approval of the curriculum and engaged in a more inclusive, iterative, and deliberative process that emphasized explicitly including faculty as experts and learners in the program design. That process also capitalized on our current strengths and strategic initiatives. This focus on faculty engagement and context served us well and resulted in a new multitiered core curriculum-Civitae-that centered on inquiry and integrative learning. The reform process also initiated broader and more fundamental institutional changes that continue to unfold.

BUILDING ON OUR STRENGTHS

Our commitment to general education reform came from both faculty and administrators. Faculty had recommended revising the general education curriculum in an academic strategic plan developed in 2011-12. In 2013, new presidential leadership spurred the reform process, ensuring that general education revision became an institutional priority in the university's strategic plan for 2014-18. Sensitive to the nature and rhythms of faculty work, the president also did not impose a timeline on curriculum development but encouraged faculty to dream big and develop an innovative curriculum that truly reflected Longwood. The president, along with the provost, empowered the faculty to drive the reform process and, most importantly, provided financial support consistently during development. The administration's commitment to funding the new curriculum was critical to overcoming pockets of faculty skepticism.

Longwood's strong shared governance model also ensured that faculty expertise would be at the center of the revision process. The Faculty Senate, composed of representatives from each of the sixteen academic departments in our three colleges, holds monthly meetings and biannual faculty meetings. In addition, department chairs convene monthly as an advisory group to the provost. The senate leadership meets regularly with both the president and the provost and participates in quarterly board of visitors meetings. This governance structure, as well as the commitment to transparent and frequent faculty communication, created opportunities for continuous dialogue about the new curriculum design.

Committee Leadership

In fall 2013, the faculty senate appointed the Academic Core Curriculum Committee (ACCC), thirteen faculty members from across the three colleges, to lead the reform process. …

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