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Vancouver takes time to evaluate gen ed

Photo: WSU Vancouver is in its second year of enrolling and educating freshmen. (Photo courtesy of WSU Vancouver).
After only one year of offering general education courses at WSU Vancouver, administrators and faculty members want more time to gather data and evaluate feedback before applying for permanent course approval.

“We really didn’t have time to take a deep breath and say, ‘Okay, let’s look at what’s happening,’ ” said Karen Diller, assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs at WSU Vancouver and chair of the general education advisory board.

The WSU Vancouver program was developed through a campuswide collaborative approach that drew heavily on the 2005 Shoenberg report and other studies of undergraduate education from around the country. It shares some features with Pullman and Tri-Cities, but has significant differences as well.

All three campuses require 40 credit hours of general education, but Vancouver requires a six-unit interdisciplinary core course of all freshmen and three one-unit e-portfolio classes taken at freshman, sophomore and senior standing. The e-portfolio classes fulfill three units of the six-unit communication requirement and are intended to encourage students to reflect on their own learning, specifically on their progress toward WSU’s six learning goals of the baccalaureate.

The core course, titled “Land, River and Sea: People in the Watershed,” is team taught by faculty members from the sciences and the social sciences or humanities and is intended to immerse students in hands-on learning, real-life problems and interdisciplinary research.

Last year the course was taught as both a one-semester, six-unit course, and also as consecutive three-unit courses in the fall and spring semesters. One of the issues being evaluated is whether the campus has the resources to offer a six-unit course. This year, only the three-unit classes are being offered.

“It was challenging,” said Diller, referring to the six-unit class, “but at the end of it, no one said, ‘Never again.’”

Brian Tissot, associate professor of environmental science and regional planning, team taught the six-unit class with Clair Weber-Wilkinson, assistant professor of anthropology, and Mark Stephan, assistant professor of political science. Weaving their three disciplines together to create a coherent course curriculum was challenging, Tissot said, and so were the logistics of simply keeping track of what everyone was doing.

But, he said, the team approach really did foster interdisciplinary learning.

Richard Law, director of WSU’s general education program, said WSU Vancouver’s small size allows it to be much more interdisciplinary and innovative than large, well-established programs.

“They have the possibility to do more integrated courses than we do,” he said. And, he said, he is very interested in watching how the e-portfolio courses develop.

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