Changes to gen. eds debated

By Rhea Riley

The General Education Visioning Task Force hosted a symposium to discuss general education reform, allowing student and faculty opinions to be heard.

In early 2013 the task force began examining curriculum reform so students can take courses that will better prepare them for post-graduation careers. On Wednesday, faculty, staff and students attended and gave feedback on suggestions from the task force to reform general education.

The event started with an introduction from NIU President Doug Baker and interim Provost Lisa Freeman and a keynote address by Thomas Steen, University of North Dakota’s Office of Essential Studies director.

The event included a workshop so attendants could offer opinions on approaches to reconstructing gen. ed requirements for students. The task force proposed ideas on how to reform the curriculum.

In two proposals, the focus groups considered the possibilities of incorporating an increase of in-course writing requirements, allowing upper-division courses to fulfill general education requirements and adding a writing intensive general education seminar. Participants also discussed the idea of third- and fourth-year writing requirements, which would be archived in an e-portfolio.

“What we hope to achieve is an integrated program of learning for undergraduate students at NIU,” said Vice Provost Anne Birberick.

The task force plans to move forward with focus groups that discuss reform and then finalize its data and have a solid proposal for Freeman by the fall.

The task force wants to fix aspects of curriculum and retention issues.

“We are suffering in terms of enrollment and retention. We could be in trouble if we don’t get this fixed in five years or sooner,” said General Education coordinator Michael Kolb.

The task force also wants to make the majority of the general education courses more relevant to students and their majors.

“[The task force] wants an integration of a general education system into a more cohesive and immersive process for the students,”said Robert Sabala, task force graduate assistant. “They want that instead of it becoming just a simple stepping stone to graduation [general education will become] a more useful development of skill sets that they are going to need as educated people in the real world.”

Kolb said the faculty and students have been passionate in seeking changes in the curriculum.

“The process is not just the task forces, it’s the community,” Kolb said. “It’s the mixture with the students, the faculty and staff because the curricular forum is owned by them, not the task force.”

Kolb said the task force members want to come up with three ideas for reform and make them available to the public within three months.