Open Notes on the Association of General and Liberal Studies 2018 – #AGLS18

It has been a privilege to participate in the 2018 meeting of the Association of General and Liberal Studies. I was invited to give one of the keynote addresses, Practicing the Arts of Liberty, and was grateful to be welcomed into a community committed to weaving general and liberal studies into the fabric of higher education.

On Saturday morning, I woke up early to put the final refinements on the presentation and, as dawn spread its rosy fingers across the sky, I set out on a morning walk to consider some of the themes that emerged over the course of the conference.

Sunrise over the Allegheny River, Saturday, September 22, 2018

Engage and Support Faculty

If the general education curriculum is to be valued as the heart of the undergraduate experience, faculty need to be empowered to see in it the expression of a core commitment to cultivate the next generation of ethically imaginative citizens. We need structures that cultivate the intellectual life of the faculty through the General Education endeavor.

Indeed, we need to move away from thinking of GenEd reform as a once in a generation undertaking, and begin to build institutional structures and habits of continuous GenEd quality improvement and engagement.

Improving Learning in General Education: An AGLS Guide to Assessment & Program Review provides a helpful primer on precisely how to create a culture of continuous GenEd quality improvement.

When we undertook GenEd reform at Penn State, we recommended and they have now adopted Integrative Studies Seed Grants for Faculty. Similarly, during a GenEd revision that created its signature Pathways to General Education program, Virginia Tech adopted a Pathways Scholars initiative that supports the work of faculty as they redesign their courses in line with the expectations of the new curriculum. 

The results of that initiative were on display in the creative ways VTech faculty like Trudy Harrignton-Becker, Eric Hogan, and Ann-Marie Knoblauch had thought creatively about their courses and integrated dynamic, active learning opportunities for students into their curriculum. Prof. Harrington-Becker’s transcription course focusing on the correspondence of WWI veteran Joseph F. Ware and his wife, Suzie, is a great example of how an entire history can come to life for students by studying the correspondence of a single solder and his wife.

Putting Equity into Practice

The Department of Focused Inquiry received a Division for Inclusive Excellent Award to integrate a commitment to equity into the heart of their GenEd curriculum. They recognized that it would be important to create a teaching faculty with the cultural competencies required to integrate practices of equity into their courses. They asked each faculty member to set specific goals of their own in this regard, to try new assignments and pedagogies, and to reflect on the results of their work at the end of the year. Each faculty was required to add these goals to their faculty work plans, so the Chair could hold them accountable for their work and reward it accordingly when it came time for salary increase decisions.  

Telling the Story of General Education and Liberal Arts

John Frederick, Director of Faculty Learning and Engagement at Central Piedmont Community College, raised a series of questions about how and when to tell the story of General Education. He argued for the need to begin talking about General Education with High School Guidance Counselors, and then to integrate it deeply into all of our communication with prospective students and their parents. He also emphasized the importance of having a strategy to facilitate substantive conversations with faculty about the meaning and purpose of General Education.

This has been a significant concern of mine since I worked on the GenEd reform at Penn State. At the time, we tried to build support for GenEd by putting the habits of public deliberation we wanted our students to learn into practice through structured deliberations about the GenEd curriculum reform itself. Although we were not fully successful in that attempt, the initiative created a university-level discussion of the value and importance of GenEd. This discussion itself needs to be ongoing and continuous, which is another reason to move away from an approach that revises GenEd once every 10-20 years, to the continuous improvement model discussed above. 

Lightning Talks

The AGLS adopted an approach to lightning talks that required presenters to provide 20 images that appear on the screen for 20 seconds. It was compelling to watch. It is also a powerful way to make ideas come to life. The principle of simplicity under time constraint makes the format at once theatrical and disciplined.

Stephen Biscotte giving a Lightning Talk

Such structured lightning talks provide an interesting way to engage faculty and students about the importance and value of General Education. Hosting regular and structured #GenEd Lightning Talk events throughout the year would be a fun way to elevate the profile of the general education endeavor on campus.

Practicing the Arts of Liberty Keynote

To put my commitment to openness into practice, I used reveal.js to create open, public slides for my Practicing the Arts of Liberty keynote address. This blog post on outlines the basic contours of the presentation, but does not include the candid conversation we had about the current situation at Michigan State University.

The generosity of those who attended the keynote address can be felt in the live-twitter stream that unfolded during the talk.

AGLS18 Links and Resources

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