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Developing general education skills

In our contemporary campus culture, broadly construed, developing a well-rounded general education can be quite elusive. Though a broad educational experience is a perennial touchstone in strategic plans and commencement speeches alike, pressures for more narrowly defined jobs and career paths upon graduation create a tendency to whittle away at the very broadness we cherish and that we recognize as important.

On Thursday Nov. 7 at 10 am in the Thomas Reading Room of the MLC, one of the leading teachers in the UGA professoriate, Peggy Brickman, will present a public lecture on Scientific Literacy and how university courses help students build it within themselves as a part of their degree programs:

“Individuals use scientific information in many real world situations beyond the classroom, ranging from evaluating sources of evidence used in media reports about science to recognizing the role and value of science in society. Consequently, achieving scientific literacy for all is a core rationale for science coursework as part of general education (Gen Ed) requirements for undergraduates. But, how do we go about helping students develop those skills? Are courses chock full of content a mile wide and an inch deep helping to produce student with these real life skills? Or do they produce students with a false view of science as a grab bag of facts to be memorized and experiments that reconfirm existing ideas? I’m interested in teaching students to use biology in their own lives, and for the rest of their lives. I’m also interested in finding ways to measure students’ scientific literacy so I can demonstrate the value added to spending a semester in a Core General Education Science Course.”

Emphasis mine. These are extraordinarily important tenants of a healthy society. Even as we put graduates on the path to particular careers, we remember that all of our courses should also be built with the idea of training an engaged citizenry that will face many complex decisions, both personal and societal. Part of the university experience is to help prepare them for this challenge. One challenge for higher education is to strike a balance with these non-competing interests.

Image: Peggy Brickman, courtesy of UGA Photographic services.

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