Beginning next academic year, new general education requirements will be implemented at Lewis & Clark. As part of these changes, the current first-year seminar, Exploration and Discovery (E&D), will be replaced with “Words” in the fall and “Numbers” in the spring. In addition to changing E&D, new general education requirements will be introduced. Discussions on these new requirements have been in the works for years and have involved both faculty and students.
Curriculum Committee Chair and Associate Professor of Mathematics Paul Allen explained that changing general education requirements is standard as colleges modernize.
“Generally speaking, at all institutions, it’s standard practice to, every few years, revisit the overall general curriculum,” Allen said. “These requirements tend to have a lifespan of a decade or so, plus or minus.”
E&D was first implemented in the fall of 2006. Replacing E&D will be two seminars, “Words” and “Numbers.” Unlike E&D, individual “Words” and “Numbers” classes will not share any common readings. Instead, the faculty in charge of teaching individual sections will have the power to shape their course, so classes will be more in-line with their own interests and expertise.
Associate Professor of Religious Studies Jessica Starling, the co-chair of the General Education Steering Committee (GEST), expressed excitement about the versatile structure of the new seminars.
“I think the new first-year seminars … have the potential to be really exciting and quite unique to Lewis & Clark, in that they will reflect our full-time faculty’s broad-ranging interests and expertise, as well as our commitment to teaching students at all levels of their college career,” Starling said via email.
The “Words” seminar, required for all first-semester first-year students, will introduce students to a variety of written texts and teach how to analyze them. Similarly, individual “Numbers” seminars will incorporate a wide range of disciplines, although they will all focus on quantitative data. Allen explained the motivation to structure the category in this way.
“I think one of the things we see out in the world is that quantitative information is all over the place now,” Allen said. “And, if you pick up The New York Times … there are these little infographics and the quantitative information out there forming the story. Let’s have a conversation about that, and let’s engage with that in some way.”
Starling expressed enthusiasm about the potential topics taught in different “Numbers” classes.
“Imagine a quantitative reasoning course on ‘Happiness,’ ‘Color,’ ‘Contamination,’ ‘Existence on Earth’ or ‘Global Hunger,’” Starling said. “Learning how to interpret and explain quantitative information is such an important skill in our world, and I think students are going to have so much fun in these classes that they may not even realize they are learning hard things!”
Student Academic Affairs Board (SAAB) Chair and Student Representative to the Curriculum Committee Shannon Drew ’20 said that students will also give presentations as part of both their “Words” and “Numbers” classes. Drew mentioned a point President Wim Wiewel made in the faculty meeting on Nov. 5, where he discussed students’ lack of presentation skills.
“I talk to parents … about the ability to present material, written and oral, as a key product of a liberal arts education,” Wiewel said. “And I gotta say, this fall, I’ve been really struck by how poor many of our students are at that … But there are a lot of them, they’re just too shy to speak up. They don’t know how to articulate their point. They kind of don’t have anything to say, even though I know they gotta have things to say, but they don’t know how to … So, boy, there’s a lot of work to be done.”
Drew spoke on how she hopes students will be taught to formally present in the seminars, as they usually are not taught these critical skills in many of their other classes.
“I would want to see in the way (presentations are) taught is to make them a little more collaborative, or getting feedback about … presentation skills, not the content of the presentation,” Drew said. “And I think that there isn’t really curriculum here right now to get feedback on your presentation skills.”
In addition to the new first-year seminars, the general education requirements will introduce multiple new categories.
While a research paper will not be part of the first-year seminars, the “Bibliographic Research and Writing” category will provide students this opportunity. Allen explained the intention behind creating this new category to fulfill the second semester E&D learning outcomes.
“Currently, part of what the learning outcomes … are, is writing this research paper,” Allen said. “We wanted to make sure that, somewhere in the students’ trajectory here, they learned how to write.”
Classes from a wide variety of majors will fulfill the Bibliographic Research and Writing category, so students may research topics in their particular field of study for their final paper. Students may take classes that fulfill this requirement outside of their majors if they so choose.
Additionally, while Natural Sciences will be a category in the new general education requirements, there will no longer be a lab requirement.
A category entitled “Global Perspectives” will replace the current International Studies requirement. Most students will be able to fulfill this requirement by studying abroad, with a few exceptions. The current requirement mandates students to complete 12 credits while overseas, or eight credits at LC. To fulfill the new Global Perspectives category, students will only have to complete eight credits overseas, or they can complete four credits through an approved Global Perspectives course at LC.
A brand new category in the requirements will be “Culture, Power and Identity.” This category will call upon students to critically examine how culture and power impact both larger societal structures and how individuals shape their identities. Allen said that the creation of the “Culture, Power and Identity” category was largely inspired by student desires.
“We heard from faculty that students want to be more equipped with asking challenging questions and addressing challenging issues surrounding culture, power and identity, how that becomes produced and what are the implications of that,” Allen said.
Another new category will be “Historical Perspectives,” which will engage students with evaluating different events, ideas and materials from before 1945.
The current Creative Arts, World Language, and Physical Education and Well-Being requirements will remain the same.
The process for restructuring the general education requirements began with a voluntary group of students, faculty and staff who met weekly at Maggie’s, trying to create an identity statement for the college and discussing how the general education requirements could more accurately reflect LC’s values. This group was named the Subcommittee on General Education (SoGE). Inspired by these conversations, the GEST was formed as a subcommittee of the Curriculum Committee from 2017-2018 and has played a predominant role in shaping the new requirements.
Starling spoke on how these initial meetings shaped future discussions of general education requirements.
“I think (the initial) approach was really important to setting the tone for the process that unfolded over the next few years: from the very beginning we’ve been asked to think broadly, communicate openly and ultimately make decisions about GE that are authentic to who we really are at Lewis & Clark,” Starling said.
Yet, Drew is skeptical of truly how much student input has shaped these new requirements.
“I don’t really know if our voices are being heard all too well,” Drew said. “I know that faculty members want to hear our voices, but I don’t know if they really know how to ask for our voices. It’s kind of frustrating when it comes to my role as SAAB chair because I’m supposed to … really support people’s voices and elevate them when they’re speaking about academic things.”
Overall, Starling expressed satisfaction with the new changes.
“In general, I think the entirety of the new General Education reflects much more efficiently and authentically what we have (to) offer across the curriculum at LC,” Starling said.
Allen similarly views the new requirements as a reflection of LC’s institutional progression.
“It’s important to realize that the institution is kind of a living organism, and it evolves as time progresses, and this is sort of the latest evolution,” Allen said.