Agenda Item FA 13-41

Submitted by the Executive Committee

Proposed Restructuring of the UNF General Education Program

11/07/13: Passed

11/15/13: Approved

Proposed Restructuring of the UNF General Education Program


A. S amuel Kimball

Chair, General Education Council and

G eneral Education Task Force


 September 3, 2013

Revised October 1, 2013



I: Introduction


In spring 2012, the Florida State Legislature passed a bill that requires that all state universities, state colleges, and community colleges offer a 15 credit-hour "common core" curriculum in their General Education programs.


The State-Mandated (Common Core) Curriculum (15 CHs): This curriculum is composed of a menu of courses (at the 1000- and 2000-levels) in each of five disciplinary areas: Communication, Humanities, Social Science, Mathematics, and Natural Science. This "common core" of courses is to be the same at all universities in the State University System (SUS) and at all of the colleges in the Florida College System (FCS).  Students must take one three-hour course in each of the five areas. Although each of the core areas has learning competencies associated with them, the focus of the Common Core curriculum is the content of the individual courses in the specific disciplines that are included in the five areas.


Each SUS and FSC institution has the freedom to design the rest of its General Education curriculum according
to its particular aims.


II: The Proposed UNF General Education Competencies

and Outcomes Curriculum (21 CHs)


This proposed restructuring of the UNF General Education Program was initially developed by the General Education Task Force in consultation with the General Education Council, a wide range of faculty, the administrative leadership of each of the five colleges, and the international expert in curriculum innovation and assessment, Dr. Ann Ferren, who reviewed the UNF General Education Program last December. The proposal has been distributed to the UNF faculty and others in conjunction with presentations in college, department, and other unit meetings this fall. The proposal has received the support of the five college deans and their leadership teams as well as of, among others, the Dean of Undergraduate Studies, the acting dean of the library, and our provost.


The Questions that Guided Our Approach: In developing our proposal, we set ourselves the task of answering the following sets of questions:


  1. Will our proposal enable us to implement the Florida legislature's state-mandated General Education changes efficiently and effectively?
  2. What institutions have effectively revised their General Education programs? Is there an ideal model for General Education programs? If there are multiple possibilities, what criteria will we use in determining the direction we want to go? In what direction is the U.S. Department of Education moving?
  3. What benefits do we want and what costs might they entail? Can we devise a program that is intentional and coherent, on the one hand, and that does not entail either a costly reallocation of resources or redeployment of faculty or protracted fighting over which departments and disciplines get included and which do not, on the other?
  4. Can we offer a program that reaches out to the four professional colleges and provides them an incentive for investing in the General Education program? Can the General Education program facilitate cross-college curricular and pedagogical cooperation? Can it be verticalized-that is, reconceived as an ongoing component of a student's entire program of study rather than being, at present, a jumble of first- and second-year courses that have no particular relation to upper-level coursework?
  5. What will be the place of disciplinary and cross-disciplinary content in the curriculum? What will be the place of intellectual competencies and skills that are transferrable across disciplines but that are relatively independent of specific content?
  6. How can we develop a program that is pertinent to the globalization of culture in the 21st-century? How can we structure our curriculum so that it is open to ongoing faculty initiatives and pedagogical experiments? How can we make the program adaptable to new cultural imperatives? How can we structure it so that it is less rather than more vulnerable to external demands that it be modified?
  7. How will we assess our program, and will we align our assessment with the ALC-assessment of upper-division courses and programs? Will our program align with the university's strategic planning and, if so, how?


Learning Competencies and Outcomes:   As Dr. Ferren noted during her on-campus visit, the students she talked with view the current General Education curriculum as a set of 12 courses that for the most part have little or no obvious connection to one another.[1]   The proposed General Education Competencies and Outcomes Program overcomes this disconnection since all General Education courses, their differences in disciplinary content notwithstanding, will share a common focus on cultivating one (or more) of four basic competencies.  Each course will emphasize one (or more) of the following: (i) quantitative reasoning and analysis and the use of the scientific method, (ii) thinking critically, (iii) communicating effectively, and (iv) cross-cultural awareness, experiential learning, or integrative learning. These competencies align with the competencies that are central to all of the university's upper-division courses as well.


The courses in the General Education program will identify the component features of these competencies in terms of explicit learning outcomes, which students will be expected to achieve. Students for their part will be responsible for mastering, at sufficient levels of proficiency, the component features (the specific learning outcomes) of the general intellectual competencies that are the backbone of the curriculum. Students who succeed in developing quantitative reasoning and analysis skills and in using scientific methodology expertly, in extending their critical thinking skills, and in learning how to communicate adeptly in many different kinds of communicative situations will thereby prepare themselves for developing these capabilities further and in more sophisticated ways in their upper-division programs.


  1. Quantitative Reasoning and Analysis and Scientific Method (12 or more CHs, including at least 1CH of lab coursework).This category of competencies requires that students develop, strengthen, extend, and demonstrate the ability to:
    • Determine appropriate mathematical and computational models and methods in problem solving.
    • Demonstrate an understanding of mathematical, statistical, and computational concepts.
    • Apply mathematical and computational models and methods in problem solving.
    • Critically examine and evaluate scientific observation, hypothesis, and model construction.
    • Recognize and comprehend fundamental concepts, principles, and processes about the natural world.
    • Use scientific method to explain the natural world.
  2. Critical Thinking (12 or more CHs). This category of competencies requires that students develop, strengthen, extend, and demonstrate the ability to:
    • Understand and apply different qualitative methods of inquiry, interpretation, evaluation, and judgment.
    • Explain, illustrate, and evaluate different kinds of argumentation and evidence.
    • Examine behavioral, social, and cultural issues, including human social behavior and its consequences, from various points of view.
    • Understand basic social and behavioral science concepts and principles used in the analysis of behavioral, social, and cultural issues, past and present, local and global.
    • Interpret (analyze, evaluate, and appreciate) the features and dimensions of culture-cultural artifacts (such as texts, music, artworks, media productions, architecture), technology, traditions and conventions, and other cultural expressions-
    • Reflect critically upon the human condition and experience.
  3. Communication (9 or more CHs).This category of competencies requires that students develop, strengthen, extend, and demonstrate the ability to:
    • Communicate effectively in writing, in electronic/digital formats, and/or orally.
    • Analyze written, electronic/digital, and/or oral communication critically.
    • Explain grammatical, stylistic, compositional, and other terms and concepts that are basic to communicating effectively.
    • Explain one's own communicative decisions and practices.
  4. Cross-Cultural Awareness, Experiential Learning, Integrative Learning, or Additional Hours in the Above-Listed Learning Competencies (3 CHs).
    • Cultural Diversity and Cross-Cultural Awareness Competency. This category of competencies requires that students develop, strengthen, extend, and demonstrate the ability to identify, explain, and analyze the implications of cross-cultural issues, ideologies, and the contributions that people of diverse backgrounds bring to a multicultural world.
    • Experiential Learning Competency. This category of competencies requires that students reflect critically on the transformative effects of a CBL, internship, study abroad, or other such experience-that is, how the experience led them to change their beliefs, attitudes, or behavior in some significant way; challenged their previous assumptions; came to appreciate the value and limits of theory in relation to the constraints on decisions and actions (practice).
    • Integrative Learning/Reflective Judgment. This category of competencies requires that students develop, strengthen, extend, and demonstrate their ability to think critically and to communicate that thinking effectively in the appropriate communicative medium or media.
    • Additional Hours in Competency 1, 2, or 3.

How the Common Core Maps onto the UNF General Education Competencies and Outcomes  Curriculum: The courses and competencies in the Common Core menus are divided into five groups by intellectual discipline. These courses are also available in the UNF General Education Competencies and Outcomes Curriculum, where they are divided into four groups by intellectual competencies (see Table 1, page 7).


Departmental Participation in General Education: When the General Education Competencies and Outcomes Curriculum is adopted, departments will have the option of devising assessment plans that include more than the one (default) competency listed above for any given General Education course and then of seeking approval of their plans from the General Education Council.


For example, if a department that offers a Social Sciences or a Humanities course wanted to assess student writing skills in addition to student skill in critical thinking, the department would devise an appropriate assessment plan and submit it to the Council for its evaluation. If the Council were to approve the plan, the course would carry the attribute for both Critical Thinking and Writing competencies. In this case, the course would remain a 3 credit hour course but would carry 6 credit hours of learning competencies.


Pilot Assessment: In fall 2013, the General Education Council will initiate a pilot assessment program with each faculty member who teaches a General Education course assessing the extent to which students have met the competency associated with his or her course. A task force for assessment met in May in a workshop format to design and develop these assessment instruments.


Course Review: When this proposal is adopted, the General Education Council will review all current General Education courses and proposals for new courses. The Council will develop evaluation criteria based on the extent to which a course focuses on one (or more) of the above-described programmatic learning competencies and outcomes, includes an appropriate set of assignments aimed at providing students multiple opportunities
to develop and achieve these competencies and outcomes at the requisite level of proficiency, and has an appropriate plan of assessment with explicitly (operationally) defined measurements. 


Benefits: The proposal accomplishes seven major purposes.

  1. The proposal enables UNF to implement the legislatively-mandated changes to General Education with no major reallocation of resources or redeployment of faculty. 
  2. It aligns UNF with the new direction on which the U. S. Department of Education (DOE) embarked this spring when it announced its support of and the availability of funding for university initiatives to restructure their programs based on learning competencies and outcomes rather than on course-specific disciplinary content. Following the lead of organizations such as the American Association of Colleges and Universities and a number of elite institutions (including MIT and Stanford), the DOE has now set an agenda for institutional accreditation based on competency-based assessment of student learning. Our proposal anticipated this agenda and lays out both a framework and procedures for adapting to and, indeed, capitalizing on it. 
  3. It reaches out to the four professional colleges and provides them an incentive for investing in the General Education program. 
  4. It immediately integrate UNF's lower-division curriculum learning competencies and outcomes with the competencies and outcomes of the upper-division programs of study in the major. In providing a clear way to make this integration happen, both structurally and conceptually, the proposal puts UNF in the company of those universities around the country that, according to Dr. Ferren, are doing the most interesting work "on advising, aligning outcomes of Gen Ed with the major, using e-portfolios as an integrative capstone experience," and pursuing other competency-based and learning outcome-related initiatives. In her review of the UNF General Education Program last December, Dr. Ferren affirmed the strengths and innovativeness of our proposed restructuring with its focus on integration: "Integration," she emphasized, "is the underlying principle worth thinking about as you go forward." [2] Guided by this principle of integration, we have paid careful attention to specifying skills and competencies that can be taught and acquired in a range of courses, thereby giving students a greater opportunity to understand the relation between their general education studies and the intellectual capabilities they will need in their upper-division courses as well as in the workplace.
  5. By linking the learning competencies of the General Education curriculum to those of the major, the proposal will sharpen the programmatic focus on student learning in two of the main areas-critical thinking and communication-that are of paramount concern to the professional accrediting bodies in business, health, education, computing and engineering, the sciences, and the social sciences.
  6. It focuses on competencies and skills that are foundational to success in a globalizing culture.
  7. It is open to ongoing faculty initiatives, including pedagogical experiments and interdisciplinary collaborations. It enables the faculty to change the content focus of individual courses but retain the competency focus that is the basis of the program.

III: Conclusion


In sum, in accordance with the new programmatic direction being taken by the U. S. Department of Education, the proposed restructuring aims at reconceiving the UNF General Education Program in terms of learning competencies and outcomes and then mapping these onto the current (and traditional) credit-hour course system. All indications-including those coming from professional accrediting bodies, the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), many of the highest profile universities in the nation, and the pages of such publications as the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, and that outcomes-based programming is the future that higher education is beginning to embrace.


The members of the General Education Council and the General Education Task Force believe that this proposal, which developed out of an intense study of the conceptual issues involved in such programming, provides a clear, operationally specific, and workable plan for moving to such programming (the first such General Education programming among the SUS schools) within a curricular structure that in the foreseeable future will remain tied to the traditional three credit-hour course and the 120 credit-hour Bachelor's degree.


How the Common Core Courses Map onto the UNF Competencies and Outcomes Curriculum



Common Core Courses:


UNF General Education Competencies in:

1. Communication

ENC 1101-English Composition 1

1. Communication

All current GE writing courses**               

2. Social Sciences

AMH X020-Introductory Survey Since 1877

ECO X013-Principles of Macroeconomics

ANT X000-Introduction to Anthropology

POS X041-American Government

PSY X012-Introduction to Psychology

SYG X000-Principles of Sociology

2. Critical Thinking



All current GE Social Science courses







All current GE History, Philosophy, Art,     Music,                 Film, and Theater courses**

3.  Humanities

ARH X000-Art Appreciation

HUM  X020-Introduction to Humanities

LIT X000-Introduction to Literature

MUL X010-Music Literature/Appreciation

PHI X010-Introduction to Philosophy

THE X000-Theater Appreciation

4. Mathematics*

MAC X105-College Alegebra

MGF X106-Liberal Arts Mathematics I

MGF X 107-Liberal Arts Mathematics II

STA X023-Statistical Methods

3. Quantitative Reasoning and Analysis and  Scientific Method


                All current GE Mathematics and Statistics                 courses**





                All current GE Natural Science courses

5. Natural Sciences*

AST X002-Descriptive Astronomy

BSC X005-General Biology

BSC X010-General Biology I

CHM X020-Chemistry for Liberal Studies

CHM X045-General Chemistry I

ESC X000-Introduction to Earth Science

EVR X001-Introduction to Environmental Science

PHY X020-Fundamentals of Physics

PHY X048-General Physics with Calculus

PHY X053-General Physics I 

                [No corresponding competency]

4.  Cross-Cultural Awareness, Experiential Learning (Internships, Study Abroad Courses, TLOs), Integrative Learning


                All current Cultural Diversity and Foreign                 Culture courses.**



* Higher-level required courses in Mathematics and Natural Sciences will satisfy the listed GE courses.

**For 2013-14, the GE Council has begun reviewing the assessment protocols of all current GE courses as well as of proposals for new courses.


 [1]  In the present General Education curriculum, students must pick 12 (predominantly content-specific) courses from among five categories. In trying to plan a course of General Education study, they are confronted with thousands of 12-course combinations. This fact, according to the students who talked with Dr. Ferren, makes a hodge-podge of traditional general education programs that are based on content-areas. A program based on competencies provides students with a competency-focused map through the maze of 12-course options.


[2] Cited in Dr. Ann Ferren's external review of the UNF General Education program (December 2012). Dr. Ferren is Senior Fellow in the Office of Quality, Curriculum, and Assessment at the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U).