New General Education Program prepares students to understand interconnectedness of knowledge -- just like in the real world

Freshmen to begin taking courses in Fall 2001

A new era of teaching and learning will begin at Fort Lewis College this fall with the introduction of the college's new and innovative general education program.

The Fall 2001 freshman class will be the first to enroll under the new degree requirements, which took five years to develop in what faculty have called the "most extensive curriculum modification process ever undertaken."

The program is designed to introduce students to a "trans-disciplinary" exploration of four knowledge areas over their four-year college career, so that they emerge from their liberal arts education at Fort Lewis with critical thinking skills and the ability to integrate information and knowledge across disciplines.

"Students will be exposed to ideas in courses that transcend any one discipline," says Anthropology Professor Kathy Fine-Dare, who serves as chair of the college's General Education Council. "They'll study issues and thematic areas in ways that knowledge exists in the real world and the way they actually experience it.

"Let's face it. Real life isn't compartmentalized into chemistry or history or politics. It's all mixed up together. A political decision, for example, can affect the environment, which in turn, can affect a community's economy or your family's health.

"Our thematic studies courses within the general education program will help students understand the interconnectedness of knowledge. They will emerge from college with an integrated learning experience, with the ability to think critically beyond their majors," she said.

And Fort Lewis graduates will be more marketable in the workplace as a result, she added.

"In our discussions with business and industry representatives, we've found that what employers want are college graduates who have people and system skills. They want employees who understand how people fit into a system, how local systems interact with global systems. They want employees who understand how the world works, yet can think outside the box. They want employees who can think on their feet in a dynamic global economy.

"Thematic Studies is the part of the General Education program that will help students learn to do just that," she said.

Redefining Fort Lewis College's educational purpose

Fort Lewis College began work to revitalize its general education program after a 1996 visit by a North Central Association accreditation team for the college's 10-year evaluation. The team criticized the college's old general distribution program, saying it lacked a clearly defined statement of philosophy and objectives, clear faculty oversight, and clearly stated learning outcomes that could be assessed and incorporated into the college's planning.

The first of three general education task forces convened in 1996 and produced the framework in which the general education program would emerge.

The faculty wanted a program that:

Fewer hours, more focused studies

The new general education program requires students to take a composition course, a library research course, a wellness course along with one skill and one fitness activity, and two thematic study courses in each of the four knowledge areas. Those knowledge areas include:

The new program can be completed within 35 to 48 credit hours. The old general distribution program required 45 to 61 credit hours to complete. The reduced credit hours also will help the college meet the Colorado Commission on Higher Education mandate to reduce all bachelor's degree programs in the state to 120 credit hours by Fall 2001.

Freshmen entering Fort Lewis in Fall 2001 will comply with the new requirements. Students now at Fort Lewis will continue to complete general distribution courses under the old system until the end of the 2004-05 academic year.

Continuing students may choose the new catalogue options, but will have to meet the requirements of the entire package, including fulfillment of all new general education courses, plus any changes in the major.

Although the general education program requires fewer credits, its uniqueness lies in the course sequence, said Associate Professor of Art Susan Moss, who serves as the general education program coordinator.

The thematic studies are divided into two levels. Thematic Studies I courses are for freshmen and sophomores and are based on disciplinary foundations. Students must take one course in each of the four knowledge areas during their first two years with at least one course accompanied by a science lab.

"We care about disciplinary knowledge and its importance for laying a foundation for integration of that knowledge in future courses," said Moss. "I think that's unique to our program."

Thematic Studies II courses are for juniors and seniors who've completed the first four disciplinary-based courses in the program. These upper-division courses are "trans-disciplinary in nature," said Fine-Dare.

"The Thematic Studies II courses cut across disciplines and are organized around themes. No one discipline 'owns' the course," she said.

For example, Fine-Dare is developing a course that will explore how technology and scientific research have been used to support race and gender stereotypes through the ages. The course will draw upon the sciences, sociology, anthropology, political science and other disciplines, and she plans to work with her colleagues in those areas to develop the course.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the upper-division thematic courses will be the intellectual diversity of the students themselves, said Moss.

The courses will bring advanced students from a variety of majors together to discuss themes from their disciplinary viewpoints. They'll learn from each other as well as from their professors, she said.

"Our students traditionally haven't performed well in critical thinking skills outside their majors, yet integration of ideas and viewpoints is one of the key skills that a liberal arts graduate should have. These courses are designed to do that," she said.

New program provides options for transfer students

Although the general education program has been designed to span all four years of a student's education at Fort Lewis College, faculty say they've paid careful attention to establish policies so that transfer students won't be penalized by the new system.

Students who choose to leave Fort Lewis after taking Thematic Studies I courses shouldn't have a problem transferring those credits to another institution, because the courses "have their homes in disciplines. Other schools will recognize them," said Moss.

Students who transfer to Fort Lewis College shouldn't have trouble, either, she added.

Students who've completed all general education requirements at another institution in compliance with CCHE-approved articulation agreements will not have to take any additional general education courses at Fort Lewis, unless, of course, they want to.

The only exception to the rule will be those students who haven't taken a physical education course. "They'll still have to do PE if they haven't done that yet," said Moss.

Those students who've completed only a part of another institution's general education core will have transcripts evaluated so they can receive credit for Thematic Studies I courses, said Moss.

"The Thematic Studies II courses are upper-division courses. Transfer students who haven't completed their general education studies will take the second round of general education courses like the rest of the juniors and seniors who started here.

"We've designed the program so that it makes student movement in and out of Fort Lewis relatively easy," she added.