Baker University is preparing to overhaul its general education requirements, focusing on skills rather than on specific courses.
The change, which needs approval from the school’s Board of Trustees, is already being piloted for freshmen.
Erin Joyce, Baker’s interim assistant dean for liberal studies, has been involved throughout the five-year process leading up to the change.
“The students who have taken the freshman pilot courses, they do seem to like it,” she said.
The number of hours required for general education will be lowered, from about 56 to 60 hours for most students to 38 hours. The number of total hours required for graduation will stay the same.
The required courses will be spread out over four years.
In the first year, students will be encouraged to “ignite” their learning and discover themselves. In year two, students learn to “investigate” through scientific inquiry.
In the junior year, students focus on “integration” of information, followed by the senior year when learning centers around the “impact” of what they’ve learned and how they can apply it to the real world.
This comes after the school hired a consultant from the American Association of Colleges and Universities, and after Baker looked at data from businesses that showed what they’re expecting from graduates.
Businesses want students who can communicate well, Joyce said, both orally and in writing, who are critical and creative thinkers, globally aware, act ethically and can work in teams.
Therefore, the new model focuses on skills rather than specific classes. For example, gone are the old Composition I and Composition II requirements.
In their place is a “core class” called Liberal Studies 111, a class that integrates writing, public speaking and other skills. But each section of LS 111 is different, based around a theme that the instructor chooses.
Joyce teaches a class designed around Harry Potter. Others focus on music and culture, media and gender, and investigating the paranormal.
The key thing is that the students are picking up the skills, said Rob Flaherty, associate dean for the College of Arts and Sciences. He teaches a class on mind-altering drugs and their culture, and doesn’t lecture often, instead using class time for students to collaborate, discuss and research.
“A lot of our students will have jobs when they graduate that don’t exist today,” he said, making the focus on these kinds of skills all the more important.
Old standbys like biology, chemistry and physics are still around, Joyce said, but are linked with the core classes.
Kansas University is undergoing a similar review of its general education requirements. While KU leaders have indicated that it will likely include a reduction in the number of general education hours required, Flaherty said it was doubtful that a model exactly like Baker’s could be replicated at a university like KU.
“It’s much harder to do at a large school,” he said.