Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Gen Ed-itorial

Why I don’t like our Gen Ed system. – Guest Column in the Daily Nebraskan

First, I’d like to note that I support Liberal Arts wholeheartedly by taking as many weird classes as I can. In fact, this semester I took classes in Marketing, International Studies, and Ed Psych. Which makes me uniquely qualified to… whine, I guess.

I don’t like forced gen eds. Value vanishes as sizes skyrocket and students conscripted into classes stop caring. The facebook group ‘Keep Your (bleeping) Hand Down in Lecture and Shut Up. No One Cares’ has 131,451 members as of this writing.

Unfortunately, in a big university it’s not easy to make sure that students are getting experience outside their major. You make a list of subjects that are important, and higher level courses have more requirements, sticking students in basic classes en masses.

Why Gen Eds Exist
Gen eds are seen as ways for the University to make more money. In the current gen ed system classes often don’t count after a student switches majors, but this image is more tied to the fact that the classes are seen as useless hurdles. And they often trip students, forcing graduation in 5, 6, or more years.

The problem is partly the current system of ES, IS, and BS (like history of rock), but that’s being worked on by the Gen Ed Planning team. Send ideas to John Janovy at jjanovy@unlserve.unl.edu, or search for ‘Review and Revision of General Education at UNL’ on the UNL website to learn more. And note that Educational Psych is useful!

Why Gen Eds Suck
There’s always fighting between professors who want to, you know, teach; administrators who want to, you know, keep student fees low with more people in each class; and students who want to, you know, get a degree on the cheap.

So we make classes huge and use TAs. I don’t like it. It forces students to ‘learn’ from TAs, professors to ignore their students, and administrators to deal with cranky professors, TAs, and students. But it’s kind of a necessary evil. Fees must be low and students must be educated, or at least lectured at and busyworked. Hence… the cranky teaching the bored on the cheap. Welcome to UNL.

The real problem I have with Gen Eds is that nobody cares about them. They’re just a hurdle to jump for everyone. But anyone could fix it. Which makes understanding why it’s not fixed even more…Byzantine. International Studies to the rescue.

Good Classes
I’ll start with Students, because you’re the bored ones reading this in your gen ed classes. Professors are good people. If you sign up for a high level class you’ll probably get in if you show you’re interested. You’ll likely have less work; Gen eds need busywork to make sure every loafer seems to learn.

The work will be harder, but there’ll be less of it. It might actually have a point. Try making a list of cool looking classes and signing up. You’ll be surprised what you get into, and if you can always drop later.

Small Hurdles
Administrators, try to make caring as easy as possible. Ignore complaints about diluting learning. Prereqs aren’t learning; they’re what’s required before you can learn. If you’re forced to pretend a hurdle isn’t something to jump, you resent hurdles and whoever the hell made hurdles so high. If a student is interested, they’ll learn. If not, they won’t. If they’re learning so they can move on, they want to learn fast and focused. Make it easy, and they’ll thank you for it.

If there are requirements for high-level classes that really only consist of a textbook, make it Keller Plan. Make every course you can Keller plan. If you get a reputation for efficiency, it pays off. Cultural Branding. (I was paying attention in Marketing, Prof. Epp. Please don’t fail me.) If you could get up to 490 level (read; cool) classes without years of prereqs more students would be willing to do it.

Keep In Touch
Professors, look at the gen ed requirements. I wonder why students are forced to take gen eds if professors don’t even care enough to know them. Audit a gen ed, see what students are being forced to sit through. Apathy is a conditioned response. Students are expected to complain; If professors whine, changes happen. If you aren’t a whiner, try fitting gen ed concepts into your lectures. If the students see you care, they might start.

Executive Summary
It’s not that students don’t want to work, we just don’t want to work more than we have to. Forcing students to waste time on busywork in huge, cheap classes isn’t what anyone wants, it’s a necessary evil. As long as we let hurdles stand, they will. I, for one, will keep taking crazy classes and ignoring requirements. Even if 131,478 (27 added) of you think I should keep my bleeping hand down.

No comments: