Tuesday, November 13th, 2007
I forgot that I can link to the College, now that the website has been redesigned by the great Jim Revillini. I’ve been unable to link because of the embarrassment I felt at the last design, which served very few. I still think the header’s too large, but things are moving.
The new College look also goes deeper, with new buildings, and a new approach to teaching and learning that digs into the guts of pedagogy and instructional practices that we call Ability-based. What’s it all about? It goes back years when we were admonished by our accrediting agency for our inability to detail how we differentiate General Education from other curricular areas. General Education can be defined broadly as those sets of skills, competencies, and contexts that “all” students at the college should demonstrate as members of an academic community and as members of the community at large. General Education is distinguished from specific degree-based cores. Long story short, the Connecticut public college system struggles to define a General Education core because of its “course-based” denotation. This many Social Science electives meets the core is the basic General Education argument, establishing Social Science as a General Education concern.
The path we followed was to define General Education as a set of abilities not as a clustered number of courses. The concept in practice can be difficult to conceptualize but promotes flexibility and problem solving in interesting ways. Communication is one of the broad areas we defined as a Gen Ed Area. Communication is conceived as subsets, which currently include writing, speaking, and listening abilities. Tunxis has defined 10 broad areas of Ability, which may shrink in the future. But here’s where the concept goes deep. The General Education Areas are now conceived as shared across the curriculum. English, Psychology, History, and even Math could all links exams, quizzes, and papers in their courses to the Communication area of ability. Professors in those areas would share responsibility for instruction in writing, as well as other Areas. If a Java programming course links to writing, then its instructor would share responsibility for instruction in writing given the context of the course and its particular method, providing instructional space for instructors to assert authority for their particular subject of interest as it involves the communication of ideas. People typically agree that students at a college should have their principle instruction in writing occur in Composition courses and that the skill will thereby be used by students in other courses. This we see as unrealistic, given that people in reality write in many contexts and for reasons a few writing courses can’t really cover.
In the professions people write, listen, and speak to one another as a matter of the day to day. To confine the instructional practice to a few courses reinforces disciplinary walls. The best teachers I had in college all encouraged us to use all our tools in better ways; they also taught the pen. They saw their way to instruct in more than just Anthropology and Trig; they didn’t see aesthetics as someone else’s job to convey. I still remember being dragged through speeches in a Childrens Literature course, grumbling that this was not a speech course. The instructor not only taught us how to engage texts, but also how to express what we learned through carefully drafted speeches. One of the best courses I ever had, providing a base for much of what I do now in and out of the classroom.