Why GenEd fared better than most when Temple was forced online

There is no question that a whole generation of sociology and education students will write theses on higher education during of the Covid 19 Pandemic. I believe studies will show that although the forced transition from classroom to online instruction taxed faculty and students alike, General Education (GenEd) classes at Temple made the switch remarkably smoothly. Here’s why:

GenEd had a head start

A number of years ago the Fox School of Business decided to create the first fully online undergraduate degree programs at Temple. This required that GenEd create at least one online offering in each GenEd area. Within a few years, online courses accounted for nearly 10% of total GenEd enrollment.  Over 95% of the students enrolled in these classes are not pursuing an online degree; they are typically on-campus student who need the schedule flexibility. As a consequence, when GenEd instructors were forced to teach online many had an existing online section to draw on.

GenEd online courses use a common template

All of the online GenEd courses use the same course layout in Canvas, Temple’s Learning Management System. This common look and feel makes it easy for students to navigate modules.Whether they are studying “The Future of Your TV” or “Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences,” students know where to find readings, resources and assignments.

GenEd courses are coordinated

All of our large, multi-section GenEd course have course coordinators. Coordinators trouble-shoot issues, promote resource sharing, and provide a point of contact for their GenEd instructors. It can be intimidating for instructors to bring up problems with their department chair or dean. Course coordinators know the course intimately, and can broker resources as needed.

GenEd assessment is not exam-heavy

The GenEd program encourages instructors to move away from test-heavy assessment. Instead, most GenEd courses already used a mixture of writing assignments, group projects, discussion boards, portfolios, reflections, case studies and oral presentations.  Exams and quizzes are typically secondary. As a result, GenEd instructors forced online had fewer concerns about online proctoring.

GenEd is about competencies, not prescribed pedagogy

GenEd courses focus on building competencies, not foundational knowledge for upper level classes. They are less sequential, hence less disrupted if a particular unit is altered or omitted.  If you miss learning about limits in a calculus class, derivatives don’t make sense. If you miss one essay on Plato, it is only a single thread in the tapestry of our Intellectual Heritage.

Students are less anxious about their GenEd courses

Students are typically far more worried about classes in their major. For once the “It’s just a GenEd” attitude works in our favor. We are hearing that students are more tolerant when problems arise in their GenEd classes, in part because they are not gateways to upper level coursework.



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