For the annual GenEd Faculty Assembly this year, the GenEd office partnered with the Career Center to gather faculty, former students and employers together to discuss the connections between the skills student develop in their GenEd classes and the needs of the workforce.
The assembly begin with a panel of recent Temple alumni taking questions about their transition from student to professional and the extent to which their GenEd coursework made a difference in their careers. Students universally praised the Philadelphia Experience (PEX) component of GenEd. They felt using the city as a learning laboratory was a big perk of their Temple education. When it came to their individual GenEd classes it was their teachers, not the course subject matter, that determined their satisfaction. This reinforced my impression based on reviewing dozens of GenEd course proposals and recertification packages — a course is great precisely when it has a great instructor. Faculty support and development is the key to improving GenEd. The students also made it clear that it was not until they were upperclassmen that they came to understand the purpose of GenEd. As freshmen they learned all about the “how” of GenEd, not about the “why.” My office needs to work with student advisors to help incoming students understand the goals behind the GenEd curriculum.
A series of break-out sessions followed the alumni panel. Here faculty talked directly with some of Temple’s employer partners about connections between the GenEd classroom and the workplace. One of my questions concerned group projects — faculty see them as essential preparation, but students typically hate them. Here is a quote from a student evaluation: “S T O P G R O U P W O R K, I did sooooo much and my group did nothing and I HAD to do everything because I didn’t want to fail and everyone got credit. UNCOOL UNFAIR.” This quote captures the essence of student’s dislike of group work: they do not know how to deal with partners who do not pull their weight. So I asked one of the employer partners about the importance of group work in their company (a large insurance corporation) and how team members are held accountable. He affirmed that group work was essential, but said that any team member who was not contributing would soon be taken to task by the rest of the team for impeding their careers. In my experience, students want instructors to do something, and are extremely reluctant to confront other students. Should we continue to require group work? Absolutely. But we need to give them strategies to hold all group members accountable. Here are some interesting suggestions.
Professional communication and email led to another lively discussion. Employers are adamant that email is not texting. Here is a quote from the syllabus of a GenEd class taught, appropriately enough, in the College of Media and Communications: “All email should be written in a professional tone, with a subject header, an opening like ‘Dear Dr. …,’ and a closing such as ‘Thank you.’ You should sign your name to all your emails.” To which I hear employers saying, “Hear! Hear!”
Many thanks to the staff of the Temple University Career Center for helping to organize and facilitate this assembly. I came away from the Faculty Assembly with a number of ideas for how to adjust my own teaching in GenEd, and I am sure others did as well!