Earl “Gip” Seaver
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Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
May 28, 2008
DeKalb — Seven leaders from Northern Illinois University will attend the American Association of Colleges and Universities Institute on General Education this weekend in Minneapolis.
They hope to return with ideas on how to launch an all-campus discussion on revamping and assessing general education.
“It’s been a very long time – about 25 years – since NIU evaluated its general education program in any kind of a comprehensive sense,” said Greg Long, chair of NIU’s General Education Committee.
“Coupled with the increased need for accountability and increased competition, we feel there is a real need to seriously look at what we want student learning objectives to be and to enhance the program we have,” added Long, a professor in the School of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders. “Students need and want to see something in return for their dollar and their participation as a student.”
Updated measurable student outcome goals are a longtime area of great interest at Altgeld Hall, Vice Provost Earl “Gip” Seaver said.
“We’re hoping to come back with a plan that will include starting a dialogue on campus about what general education at NIU should be,” Seaver said. “We want to make sure the general education goals we have still fit the students we are graduating. This is a more global society now with issues of social responsibility. We have to determine if there are additional or modified goals we should have for our students.”
David Changnon and Carolinda Douglass, respective chairs of the strategic planning task forces on curricular innovation and student success, also will make the trip. The Minnesota delegation also includes Paul Stoddard, president of the Faculty Senate; Lucy Townsend, a professor in the College of Education; and Jes Cisneros, assistant director of the Honors Program.
Long, Cisneros and Townsend all served on Changnon’s task force, which examined the general education program as one part of its work during the spring semester.
According to the task force’s May 2 recommendations to President John Peters and Provost Ray Alden, development and implementation of a significantly enhanced general education program will address imperatives that preserve, strengthen and extend NIU’s teaching and learning environment and will help to make NIU an institution of “first choice” for students, faculty and staff.
Reports from other public universities maintain that a strong general education program benefits students, schools and the greater public.
Students feel a sense of belonging and pride, enjoy improved chances for academic success and receive better advising.
Schools see higher retention rates, gain a better profile that spurs more applications, enhance the intellectual life on campus, broaden core values and stir alumni enthusiasm and support. The diverse world welcomes new citizens who are lifelong learners with the ability to integrate knowledge and skills creatively to meet social needs.
“This work can only lead to better outcomes,” Long said. “We’ve engaged a lot of people in some serious thought about what’s important to the university and our place in the region and the world. We’ve got a lot of potential, and it’s a question of how we most effectively use our resources to do the best good.”
The process should take three or four years, he said.
Members of the Minnesota delegation will create a white paper on how to include the entire university community of students, faculty and staff in the process. They also will bring different strategies and models to demonstrate what other schools have done.
A series of town hall meetings on general education are planned for the fall semester, not only to solicit input but to build excitement and collaboration among the campus stakeholders.
“How do we get faculty and staff to buy in?” Changnon asked. “How do we get them to take greater ownership of their participation in the process?”
Ironically, Long said, February’s tragedy will help the upcoming talks.
“We have an opportunity now to get a sense of what it really means to be an NIU student,” Long said. “I’m excited to begin and continue the process. We will be successful.”
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