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Tuesday, September 23, 2003
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Mission Statement 1: A Distinctive Undergraduate Education

The foundation of the Ohio University undergraduate experience is the general education program, which provides active learning opportunities, gives a breadth of learning experiences, hones creativity and engenders a commitment to lifelong learning.

It's not unusual for college students to become so absorbed in their chosen area of study that time seems to stand still. Campus classrooms, labs, study rooms and practice halls double as second homes as students delve into their major classes with enthusiasm.

William Owens chairs the University's General Education Council.

This spirited dedication to academic excellence affects each student in a unique way, such as when an art major discovers that the works of Renaissance-Baroque painters inspire his own creative talents to new heights of artistic achievement. Or when a computer science student is surprised by dawn's first light across her monitor after having spent the night fervently tapping away on a new software-programming concept.

At Ohio University, these academically enlightening moments aren't restricted to upperclass students taking the concluding courses in their majors. These kinds of experiences are awaiting all of our undergraduates in places they would least expect: general education courses.

The Ohio University general education curriculum has become a proving ground for innovative faculty who are seizing the opportunity to make Economics 101 as engrossing to students as any specialized seminar course. Through a new general education plan in development since 1999, faculty who teach core classes required of all undergraduates are pushing students to think critically, participate in debates, ask questions, conduct research, solve problems, teach each other, write better and speak publicly-all academically engaging activities traditionally associated with upper-level courses.

University College Dean David Descutner is a member of the Council.Ohio University's new general education plan, expected to be implemented across campus by fall 2005, will replace the general education curriculum adopted in the early 1980s. The plan comprises two major reform initiatives: engaging students in active learning and helping them to make deeper connections between their core classes and their majors. The expected results are elevated learning and improved knowledge retention.

"We want students to learn skills that can be applied across a broad number of disciplines, and we want them to see that they are limited only by their own imagination and the imagination of their instructors in approaching classroom material," says Associate Professor William Owens, chair of Ohio University's General Education Council.

Faculty will encourage students to become active participants in their education through novel teaching methods, examples of which already can be found on campus. Walk into an Ohio University classroom today, and you may find students:

  • participating in a team-oriented, problem-solving competition in Professor Lonnie Welch's Software Engineering course;

  • maintaining a 50 square-foot vegetable garden in Professor James Cavender's Introduction to Alternative Agriculture class; or

  • spiritedly discussing with their peers how life experiences have shaped their political opinions in Assistant Professor Kathleen Sullivan's Political Science 101 class.

"As students become accustomed to active learning," Sullivan says, "they should come to expect that they will be engaged in the classroom and, one hopes, in the world around them."

The general education plan also aims to more effectively link core classes with the instruction students receive in their majors. Owens points out that many students narrowly focus on their majors and fail to see the relevance of general education. Under Ohio University's new general education curriculum, however, students will begin to recognize important links between core classes and their majors through the integration of the following four components:

  • foundation skills such as written and oral expression and logical and mathematical thinking;

  • courses in fine arts and humanities, science, math and technology, and social sciences;

  • classes that allow students to view the world through different aesthetic, cultural, ethical and scientific "lenses"; and

  • research opportunities that teach students to find and evaluate information and apply it in a range of situations.

For many faculty, the initiative already has begun to transform the way they teach and interact with students, says David Descutner, dean of University College and member of the General Education Council.

"Being involved in this effort to introduce a new approach to general education has inspired me to reflect on my own teaching and, consequently, to begin to try what are for me novel classroom practices," he says. "I think the results have been most encouraging."

Ohio University has a multifaceted mission that combines academics, social and community elements. Much like the enduring bricks that form Ohio University's structural foundation, these elements form the basis for our future as a comprehensive, national university. This is the first in a five-part series revealing how our adherence to Ohio University's mission is influencing the lives of students, faculty and community members inside and outside Ohio University's enduring brick walls.
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