Aligning GE Subjects

In the forums, a question was raised by one of my classmates, Pons Santos, on which of the learning components should be changed if despite of a well-aligned objective, teaching strategy and assessment, learning outcomes are still not achieved. I answered teaching strategy citing my own experiences of teaching strategies often failing to live up to its purpose.

The question though reminded me of my general education (GE) classes in when I was in college in UP Diliman. During my time (it was not so long ago, but long enough for a lot of changes in the GE curriculum to be implemented – from the OLD G.E. program to the “new” REVISED G.E. program), we had to take required GE subjects wherein there would be 30-40 (or even maybe more than 50!) students from various departments and colleges in the university sitting in an auditorium listening to the lecture for an hour and a half. The objectives of the course were noble and true to the university’s commitment to academic excellence, the readings were quite exciting for a freshman who is willing to dive into 12 inch thick photocopied reading articles. It looked like a scene from Hollywood movies set in hallowed Ivy League campuses in the US.

Until you get to sit beside a bored senior college student who was catching up on his/her GE courses to graduate. Or that is until you get to hear your professor speak for the first time. That’s when you realized that your freshmen illusions are shattered and that this GE class is just an academic requirement you need to pass. The fact that a lot of professors in most of these huge-auditorium type classes are simply there to talk for an hour without caring so much (or maybe they do, they just don’t show it maybe?) as long as their students pass the departmental exams, was enough to make me wish that I would be qualified enough to get out of the GE rut and take up my majors. Is this a failure on the teaching strategy or the objective? Is the objective not aligned with the assessment? I think it’s a failure on its objectives.

This brings us to a question as to what are GE classes really for? According to the iskWiki! website of the UP Diliman Interactive Learning Center (2013), GE classes makes up for the “liberal arts education that makes the U.P. student a well-rounded person and ready for lifelong learning skills.” Further, the same website mentioned the following objectives for the GE Program, “to broaden the intellectual and cultural horizons, to foster a commitment to nationalism balanced by a sense of internationalism, to cultivate a capacity for independent, critical and creative thinking, and to infuse a passion for learning with a high sense of moral and intellectual integrity.” How lofty is that?

I do have several fun GE classes, like Humanities 1 & 2, Social Studies 1& 2, my Communication 1-3 classes, even my Math 1 and Nat Sci 1  & 2 were somehow fun. We had a lot of exciting projects that made it interesting to perk up general interest and made me conversant in topics pertaining to arts, psychology and social sciences, public speaking, geography and biology. Though there were some GE subjects where I can’t remember a thing more than a decade after college. It seemed that time spent inside the classroom attending to those subjects were a just a blur. I do have some funny anecdotes about STS or PI 100, but they were really all I remembered in class, though in fairness to STS, I managed to read the abstract on Einstein’s “Theory of Relativity” because it was required.

But how much of the GE subjects went beyond appreciation?  Humanities and Communication subjects were somehow a pre-requisite to more survey courses and eventually our major subjects in Anglo-American Literature, so it helped me a lot in terms of enhancing reading comprehension and writing skills, as well as a general understanding of arts and humanities which were required for the course. And maybe to some extent Math 1 and Philosophy 1 in terms of logically arranging my ideas. But how about STS? PI 100?

During my time in college, maybe right before I graduated, there were already too many disgruntled students who had the same opinion that some GE classes are just not worth their time. Department heads were scrambling around trying to find the solution to classes wherein students attend simply for attendance purposes and maybe get a passing grade to be able to graduate. Eventually the university managed to pass a Revised GE Program in 2003 (not without protest, as this is UP. People protest everything and you can never please everybody). According to a page from UP Baguio – College of Science (2013), RGEP still have the same objectives of ensuring that every UP student becomes a “well-rounded person, with lifelong learning skills” and still focuses on 3 main subject domains in the (1) arts and humanities, (2) social sciences and philosophy, and (3) natural sciences and mathematics. But it has a very specific statement on the competencies that a U.P. student should develop after completing 45 units of GE courses, “oral and written communication skills, independent and critical thinking, and creative thinking.” And unlike when I was taking up GE courses, students can choose which subjects to take, as long as they meet the required number of units per subject domain.

While I do not have access to studies assessing the implementation and outcomes of the RGEP, it was reported by The Philippine Collegian in 2011 that based on a study conducted by the UP Diliman Office of the Chancellor “students score an average of 1.25 in GE subjects.” This may have to be correlated with other UP units, and if students were indeed able to demonstrate higher levels of independent, critical and creative thinking in other subjects, more aligned to their major subjects, as well as in opinion-making on general issues, among others. However the article also pointed out the problem in logistics. Take for example, STS classes are the bane of a lot of UP students simply because the student to teacher ratio is too high. Teachers are not very effective because its really difficult to manage a class of 30-50 students from different departments and colleges.

In conclusion, the GE program has some very lofty and well-meaning objectives. In my experience, with having too lofty objectives, it fails to translate into appropriate teaching strategies and assessment. However, taking up GE subjects, based on my experience, somehow contributed to my personal and professional development by opening up whole new subjects I would have never read or understood beyond my own major. It would be interesting to know how UP (would) assess implementation of the RGEP and introduce innovations to the program based on the results. And as any UP student and alumni would tell you, taking up GE subjects and the anecdotes in relation to it is universal to any UP student and somehow (for better or worse) defines them when they step out of the university’s confines.

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