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Member News: C.C. Eship / NACCE Journal Fall/Winter 2008

Infusing General Education Into Technical Programs: A New Approach

Thursday, January 14, 2010   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Matthew Montoya
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By Rhonda T. Richards, Ph.D.
Executive Dean for Academic Affairs

West Virginia University at Parkersburg, Parkersburg, WV

In the spring 2008, faculty and administrators at West Virginia University at Parkersburg decided to review the 21-hour general education curriculum that is part of the associate of applied science degree programs. A review revealed that degree programs required a vast array of courses that may or may not specifically support the major or future workplace needs.

Recently, area industry representatives had commented in workforce meetings that students did not need the typical general education curriculum as they prepare for the workplace. Examples included music appreciation and other fine arts courses that, while important and valuable for any educated citizen, may not be necessary for a person preparing for a specific professional skill path. Considering the subtle movement in technical postsecondary education to approach general education creatively and innovatively, a proposal to fund a study of general education was developed and submitted to the state community and technical college commission.

Strands for Technical General Education

To initiate a creative response to general education, a literature review was conducted to determine previous work and lessons learned. Additionally, a review of literature was needed to identify a series of strands and themes for guiding general education competencies. The review of the literature unveiled important strands that would be used as a framework for identifying general education competencies that all students, regardless of specific technical major, would be expected to achieve. These included the following goals and abilities:

• Communication (Writing, oral communication) – The ability to communicate effectively with a variety of constituencies and express ideas through writing, speaking, listening, and reading.

• Computation (Mathematical literacy skills) – The ability to use mathematic skills to compute effectively and accurately using traditional and non-traditional methods.

• Collaboration (Teamwork) – The ability to work with others productively and collaboratively toward a common, shared goal with achievable targets.

• Critical Thinking (Problem solving) – The ability to think creatively to provide alternative methods for achieving goals and to engage in continuous analysis and synthesis of information and results.

• Competition (Global economy, entrepreneurship) – The ability to identify strategies and goals for being competitive in a world market and the importance of a work ethic in achieving those goals.

Methodology

To initiate the project, a team of 10 faculty were convened representing general education and technical fields to determine how to infuse the content strands into the associate of applied science technical programs. As the team began their work, they reviewed research on previous approaches, challenges, and administrative needs for infusing general education. Additionally, five specific questions were identified as critical to their investigation and would need to be answered to effectively set a plan in motion:
1. Can modules be developed that address the components of the five strands?

2. Which components are taught by subject area faculty and which components are taught by technical area faculty?

3. How is the conversion made from the modular, infused general education to corresponding general education courses for transcript purposes?

4. How is general education measured and what external instrument is used to ensure that competencies are met?

5. Are there any accreditation issues that need to be addressed?

The team collaboratively and collectively addressed each of the five questions as a catalyst for further review, realizing that the full work of the project would occur during the spring 2009 semester when the first pilot general education project begins. The team determined that the AAS in Welding Technology would be the first program for the project with the competencies to be infused coming from general education mathematics. To obtain support from faculty for the infusion project, a concept paper will be written by a subcommittee of the team and presented to faculty during Faculty Professional Development Week.

Assessment of Outcomes

A report after the first semester will be written and shared. Modifications will be made as warranted and the assessment cycle will continue to ensure the program is successful. Students will be administered a standardized assessment after the completion of the first cycle of the infused general education modules, which is tentatively anticipated in spring 2009.


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