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Breadth of Knowledge

Comments on the Breadth of Knowledge Requirement

The following commentary aims to orient faculty who are interested in proposing Breadth of Knowledge courses. Before continuing, however, read the description of the Breadth of Knowledge requirement in the new general education plan. 

The plan indicates that there are two main characteristics of a Breadth of Knowledge course:

1. The course should be introductory. This is a breadth, not a depth, requirement.

2. The course should be intellectually rigorous. These courses introduce our students not only to a particular discipline but to college-level academic work in general. These courses help mold habits and expectations about academic work that can last throughout a student’s undergraduate career. One rule of thumb for these courses is that students should expect to spend two hours preparing for each hour spent in class.

        These criteria are reflected directly in the Breadth of Knowledge proposal form. The first question on the form asks you to articulate how the course under consideration is introductory. The second question asks you to explain how the course is intellectually rigorous. The second question is more difficult because intellectual rigor is subject to a range of interpretation.

The proposal discusses academic rigor in the context of other terms that may be equally subject to variable interpretation: critical thinking, critical reading, and active learning. You may ask, what does the General Education Council have in mind? Or, what do I have to put in the proposal to get it to pass?

The Council accepts that there will be variation in how different disciplines will understand these terms and bring them into the classroom. At the same time, we expect to be able to see generic similarities shared by all Breadth of Knowledge courses. In the view of the Council, the terms academic rigor, active learning, critical reading and critical thinking aim in the same direction. An academically rigorous course will require a student to be an active learner, which in turn implies that a student be able to read and think critically about what is to be learned. 

In more practical terms, an academically rigorous Breadth of Knowledge course will ask the student to critique what is to be learned; or the course will ask the student to apply what has been learned to a different context or situation; or the course will require the student to synthesize the content of the course so that he or she will engage in the process of putting facts, ideas, and materials together in a way that is coherent. In other words, Breadth of Knowledge courses require that students go beyond learning a certain content. These courses will also require of students that they be able to apply, critique, and synthesize what they learn. 

As faculty we tend to begin the planning of a course with a consideration of what we want our students to learn—the course content. Breadth of Knowledge courses, however, ask you to consider more than the course’s content in your planning. You must also consider, and reflect in the proposal, how students will be asked to apply, critique, or synthesize the content of this course. Consider what sorts of assignments will give students practice in these activities. Consider what content is necessary for the students to engage in an informed and sensible process of critique, application, or synthesis.


Breadth of Knowledge Advisory Committee Contact Information
Chair: William M. Owens
Department: Classics, Chair
Ellis Hall 210g


Ohio University
Athens, Ohio 45701
(740) 593-1000
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