Feedback from Students
The CCVC committee has two student members, Isabel Tompkins of CSB and Alex Wald of SJU. The two students were given the task of collecting student views on the Common Curriculum. After much discussion with the faculty members of CCVC, the students decided to hold focus groups with each of the Senates. What follows is a synopsis of these focus groups. The documents used to compile the synopsis can be found on the CCVC public Moodle site under "Student Feedback."
The Senators were asked to provide written responses to the following four questions. In addition to the written responses, they also held a meeting where the questions were discussed and minutes of the meetings were taken.
- What does it mean to be a liberally educated individual?
- What should all CSB/SJU undergraduate students-irrespective of their majors or career aspirations-be able to know and take away with them?
- What is the purpose of the Common Curriculum? In your experience, does it proceed in a logical, coherent, and sequential manner?
- What are the strengths of the current Common Curriculum? What are the weaknesses? What changes would you like to see?
Being liberally educated
Here are a couple of extended passages from the students' explanations of what it means to be an educated person. The eloquence and thoroughness of these responses make them worth quoting in full despite their length.
"To me being a liberally educated individual means many things. First it is someone who knows how to pay attention and are aware of the people and the world around them. They work hard to hear what other people are saying. They can follow an argument, track logical reasoning, detect illogic, hear the emotions that lie behind both the logic and the illogic, and ultimately empathize with the person who is feeling those emotions. Furthermore, that person is literate across a wide range of genres and media and gains their information for many nonbiased sources. They are someone who can talk with anyone. Moreover, a liberally educated person participates in such conversation not because they like to talk about themselves but because they're genuinely interested in the other person. They also possess strong writing skills and knows the fine craft of putting words on paper. In some ways liberally educated individuals are puzzle solvers. They possess the ability to solve puzzles and problems. They are truth seekers, who understand that knowledge serves values, and they strive to put these two knowledge and values--into constant dialogue with each other. Above all they practice respect and humility, tolerance and self-criticism and they nurture and empower the people around them."
"...most importantly, liberally educated individuals are able to connect. They listen, read, write, talk, problem-solve, empower others, see through other people's eyes, walk in other's shoes, and lead. Through this, they connect their lives and personal experiences with others. A liberal arts education empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity and change. It allows us to adapt in an ever changing and progressive world. It allows people to develop a sense of social responsibility, strong intellectual and practical skills, that span all major fields of study, allowing people to become well rounded in the world of studies. They can communicate, problem-solve, conduct analytics, and most importantly apply the knowledge and skills they gain in the real-world setting."
Many other comments picked up many of the themes found in these long passages. For example, many students noted the value of having a broad base of knowledge outside one's major and the value of being able to understand issues from different perspectives.
What all students should learn
Students were very enthusiastic about the importance of learning outside their major. They spoke of the importance of skills, dispositions, and values.
Some of the skills mentioned by the students include being a "good communicator," having good "analytical reading skills and quantitative skills," and being able to understand the perspective of others. Some of the dispositions include, "hard work," taking initiative, paying attention to the world around them, and showing interest in other people and other perspectives. Having an education that is grounded in the Benedictine values came up several times, especially among the CSB students. The CSB students also noted the importance of studying gender issues, particularly at these institutions.
Some students articulated a clear purpose for general education that faculty could embrace when formulating a vision for the general education program. For example, one student commented: "Upon graduation from CSB/SJU students should leave here with more than just the knowledge of [their] particular career path. Students should be holistically well rounded and able to tackle any situation or job in which they are put into. They should be able to work and communicate within a diverse world while becoming empowered leaders within our society knowing how to be successful within in ever so changing world."
In general, students appreciated the idea of a Common Curriculum that forced them out of their "comfort zones" and into classes that they would not choose to take on their own. They appreciate learning different disciplinary and cultural perspectives. They also saw liberal arts training as helpful for future employment: "It is important to have a legitimate liberal arts education to diversify our degrees and standout among potential employers."
However, like the faculty, the students note that "Logical, coherent, and sequential manner does not really apply [to the Common Curriculum] because there is not an order." They also note that there is a lack of connections between the requirements and they would like to see these requirements connect.
One of the more disturbing themes to come out of the focus groups had to do with the Gender and Intercultural designations. Many students talked about taking classes with Gender and IC designations that did not address the designated issues to a significant degree. Students understood the value of these designations and were disappointed when a class did not fulfill them. (CCVC recognizes this is anecdotal information, and that concerns about whether a course delivers what it promises can be addressed through quality assessment. We discuss the importance of assessment in Part B.)
There were several comments about the value of getting the Common Curriculum requirements done in the first couple of years. As the general trends in general education are moving away from this model, we will need to keep in mind that we might need to shift this student perspective and the advising language that supports it.
Finally, the students are very unhappy with the current FAE system. It's clear that many of them see this purely as a "checking off the box" activity and are getting very little out of the experience of attending FAE events. In our discussion of the "Vision & Design Principles," we discuss this concern and explain how it may be addressed by integrating these events into general education courses, with the expectation that students reflect on FAE events in the context of class discussion or in written assignments.
It should also be noted in this report that the CCVC reviewed the data collected by Ken Jones, former Director of the Common Curriculum, on seniors' evaluation of the Common Curriculum. The full report is called "Survey of Student Views on Common Curriculum" and can be found on the CCVC Moodle page. There are two documents; one is a narrative and the other is an Excel spreadsheet. The full report echoes the same themes as found in the student feedback discussed above. The limitations of this survey point to the need for more deliberate, systematic, and integrated assessment of the Common Curriculum.