4 Philosophical Foundations of PSU’s Gen Ed Program

Current Program

When the faculty approved the current general education program in 2003, the following academic goals were articulated in the proposal:

  1. A General Education program should ensure breadth of knowledge and emphasize the relevance and application of methods of inquiry and content to students’ lives.
  2. A General Education program should help students develop an appreciation of the various ways scholars consider and understand human experience, and of the breadth of human knowledge that is reflected in the curriculum.
  3. A General Education program should help students to develop an appreciation of the process by which different approaches to scholarship (e.g., literary analysis and the scientific method) can be brought to bear on the same problem; this is especially important given that scholarship is increasingly interdisciplinary and integrative.
  4. In keeping with the principle of integration, lower level General Education courses should be broader in scope than is typically the case with discipline-based courses designed to introduce students to a major and so should be separate from any major.
  5. A General Education program should help students develop the skills necessary for academic success and lifelong learning.
  6. Students should take several courses in the first year designed to give them a foundation of academic skills on which to build. These skills should be used and developed further in all additional General Education courses.

Habits of Mind

In 2017, a faculty task force was appointed to develop a set of learning outcomes for the general education program for the purposes of assessing the program as a whole. The task force agreed to the following principles as it progressed in its work:

  1. Outcomes and rubrics should be designed to provide information about the effectiveness of the General Education program as a whole (as opposed to individual components of the General Education program), as well as about student attainment of the habits of mind.
  2. Outcomes and rubrics should reflect a strengths-based, rather than a deficit, approach in describing students’ levels of attainment of the outcomes.
  3. Outcomes and rubrics should reflect the knowledge and skills encompassed in the General Education program as it currently exists, rather than as we might desire it to be.
  4. Outcomes and rubrics should be written so that they can be used in all general education courses, regardless of the discipline of the course. That is, the language of the outcomes and rubrics should be understandable across disciplines.
  5. Outcomes and rubrics should focus on knowledge and skills that can be observed and assessed in all general education classes.

Using the Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education (VALUE) rubrics from AACU as a starting point, the task force identified a set of four habits of mind that our general education program provides learning opportunities for students to develop. A habit of mind is usual way of thinking or way of engaging with the world. For example, one way of engaging with the world is to habitually think about communicating with a purpose. These habits of mind represent the learning outcomes of the General Education program as a whole (as opposed to individual components of the program) and can be assessed in every General Education class, not just those of a particular component. The task force also developed a benchmark for each habit of mind and a set of signposts for each benchmark. There are three levels of achievement for each signpost.

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