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Implementation plan for Virginia Tech's new general education curriculum approved

April 19, 2016

Students in classroom

The implementation plan for Virginia Tech’s new general education curriculum, Pathways to General Education, was approved after a vote Monday at University Council (Read the whole plan.) The implementation plan maps out how the new curriculum, which was approved in April 2015 to replace the current Curriculum for Liberal Education, will be phased in at the university.

Pathways to General Education will go into effect for new students entering in fall 2018. In the meantime, with the passage of the implementation plan, faculty will soon be able to propose courses, minors, and alternative pathways for approval. An official call for proposals will go out through Virginia Tech News. Reviews will begin in fall 2016, with some courses beginning as pilots in 2017, similar to pilot courses launched over the last year. Pathways courses will also count for Curriculum for Liberal Education requirements.

The minors and alternative pathways are two of the more innovative options available for students in the new curriculum. Pathways to General Education minors will allow students to obtain a minor while getting a significant portion of the general education requirements fulfilled. The minors will have students taking classes intentionally in a variety of colleges across campus with some interdisciplinary courses.

Alternative Pathways will give students the ability to get general education credits for experiential learning opportunities such as undergraduate research, education abroad, internships, and similar experiences, when approved ahead of time.

“We spent much of the fall semester creating the blueprint that puts into practice the ideas of the Pathways Plan,” said Ann-Marie Knoblauch, co-chair for the University Curriculum Committee for General Education and associate professor of art history in the School of Visual Arts. “There were an enormous number of moving parts from Pathways that needed to click into place, and I feel confident that as a committee we’ve produced thorough guidelines to help faculty, staff and students navigate our new general education curriculum.”

Over the past couple of years, faculty have begun piloting courses that will meet the new Pathways to General Education requirements. Dennis Kafura, professor of computer science in the College of Engineering, piloted a computational thinking course, which will expose students from a variety of disciplines to this way of solving problems.

“Personally, I had little experience teaching a general education course – let alone developing one – and my career-long teaching was strongly oriented toward a traditional lecture model,” Kafura said. “However, the ‘computational thinking’ course came to include active learning, peer learning, problem-based learning, and a dash of flipping the classroom.”

The implementation plan includes opportunities for faculty development, through resources and training, to help other faculty reorient their current Curriculum for Liberal Education courses or to develop new ones.

The Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost has allocated a half million dollars of additional base funding to support the transition to Pathways to General Education. Faculty already are applying for grants to develop and deliver new courses and minors.

“Through the grant process so far, we are seeing faculty rethink what general education can be,” said Jill Sible, assistant provost for undergraduate education. “It’s an exciting time. The new curriculum offers faculty an opportunity to be innovative and creative. We can’t wait to put some of these courses and minors on the books with the passage of the implementation plan.”

Starting this summer and fall, the Office of General Education, in collaboration with other university offices such as the Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research (CIDER) and Technology-enhanced Learning and Online Strategies (TLOS), will offer course proposal workshops. Faculty also are encouraged to sign up for the Pathways to General Education Summer Institute, scheduled for June 13-15 at the Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center. Faculty who participate in the institute will earn a certificate and 12 Network Learning Initiatives credits. Registration is capped at 100 attendees.

"I am encouraged to see the implementation plan for Pathways to General Education approved,” said Provost Thanassis Rikakis. “In particular, the Pathways minors that may come forward to support the curriculum along with the destination areas majors will be a signature effort by Virginia Tech to innovate liberal education and establish the unique concept of the VT shaped student.  The Pathways curriculum will be dynamic with ongoing assessment to ensure we are reaching our learning outcomes.”

Pathways to General Education requirements will go into effect for new students entering in fall 2018, while the Curriculum for Liberal Education requirements will remain for any students who begin studies prior to that; however, new Pathways courses will also fulfill requirements for the CLE. In addition, current students will be able to take Pathways minors, as they are approved.

For more information about the curriculum and implementation plan, visit the Pathways to General Education website.

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