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UB students and faculty find new general education requirements confusing

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UB freshmen often have trouble navigating the Stampede, academic buildings and dorms. Some find the new general education requirements to be just as confusing.

For almost two decades, students studied the same eleven subjects to complete their general education at UB. As of fall 2016, freshmen students have completely revamped general education requirements, which emphasize integrated learning instead of a singular checklist of different courses.

The new curriculum’s central purpose is to provide students with a common educational experience and to explore an academic interest under multiple disciplines, according to Andrew Stott, vice provost of Undergraduate Education and professor of English. Some students and faculty feel the new requirements are overly-complicated and confusing.

“It might take awhile for students to get acquainted with what we’re trying to achieve but nationally, the recognition we’re receiving is huge and it’s really, really gratifying to see the work we’ve done and I hope that comes across,” Stott said.

American Committee of Trustees and Alumni, a national nonprofit organization, gave UB’s new curriculum a “C” rating for not including economics, government, foreign language and literature in its general education.

Instead of these subjects being mandatory, students have the option to study these subjects, depending on their interest.

Tyler Kruse, a freshman civil engineering major, said the tools to navigate the new curriculum are “confusing and annoying at best.”

Kruse attended an academic advising session within the engineering department, but found it unhelpful.

“It was like, all this information unloaded on you all at once, and so quickly and in such a dry manner that it was hard to find the tools,” Kruse said. “The [Pathfinder tool] is hard to use and understand and overall it just didn’t seem very effective to me,” he said.

UB is one of a few major research institutions across the country leading the way in general education reform, according to a survey by the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AACU).

The old general education requirements did not provide the sense of a shared general education, according to Stott.

UB allowed so many course exemptions that only 20 percent of students were completing all the required courses, according to Inside Higher Education.

“Gen ed is a significant portion of your undergrad degree, it’s not something that should just be some burden or an obstacle,” Stott said. “To be an enfranchised citizen of the world you need this education.”

Kruse defended UB’s decision to allow students to choose many of their general education focuses. He said it was a “waste of time” to force a biomedical major to take a government class.

The new curriculum has four components: a UB Seminar, Foundations, Pathways and UB Capstone.

Students are required to take a UB seminar in their first semester, which focuses on topics like “Aesthetics of Culture,” “How the Internet Works,” or “Buffalo Poetry.” The small class size allows students to engage closely with faculty, according to Stott.

Stott said the small-classroom setting is important for freshmen students to not feel lost on such a large campus.

“These courses are designed around big ideas and they’re deliberately not just Chem 101 or Bio 101. This is about getting to chew over some issues with an expert until waiting [until] you’re a junior to finally work with a professor,” Stott said.

The Foundations are courses of the curriculum, similar to the prior general education requirements. Students must take a sequence of communication courses, which may include courses from communication, English, or digital media and studies departments.

The Foundations preserve the former math and science requirements with one mathematical and quantitative reasoning course and a lab in scientific literacy and inquiry.

The new diversity requirement allows students to take classes like “Black Gender Studies” or “Sexual Subcultures in America.”

To complete the Global and Thematic Pathways, students choose to study a broad topic through at least two different disciplines. Throughout the pathway courses, students compile an e-portfolio with their assignments in that class.

“It’s really founded by your intellectual curiosity,” Stott said.

To complete a Global Pathway, students may study abroad, study a foreign language, or take three courses in global reflections.

For the Thematic Pathway, students customize their courses by choosing from one of five topics: environment, health, humanity, justice and innovation.

Students then take a sequence of three courses focusing on that theme.

“We decided we would put classes together in pathways so students could see if different disciplines go together or indeed don’t go together, and if they don’t, what’s interesting about that?”

The pathways culminate in the Capstone requirement, which is a one-credit research project students will ideally complete in their junior year, according to Stott.

“[The Capstone] puts students in a really great place to be in their junior year, whether they choose to go onto graduate school or the professional world, they have this horizon to look back on what they’ve accomplished so far and where they want to go from here,” Stott said.

Ian Silberzweig, a mechanical engineering major, said he found the requirements confusing and struggled with registering for the right courses.

“A lot of the courses weren’t compatible with each other,” Silberzweig said. “Pretty much once I got an option, I stuck with it because I was so glad it worked.”

After Silberzweig met with his academic advisor, he discovered he was taking several classes he didn’t need.

Silberzweig said he doesn’t think prospective students consider a school’s general education curriculum when choosing a school.

“Having just gone through the college admissions process, the whole thing is in my opinion is a disgusting business, but the new UB curriculum, I do not think is going to attract any new students here,” Silberzweig said.

James Holstun, an English professor, is teaching a freshmen seminar this fall, “Iraq and the American War.”

“My overall impression of the new curriculum is that it is overly ornate in its set-up, confusing to students and faculty, and mistrustful of the capacity of students and faculty to sit in a class and get smarter together,” Holstun said in an email.

Holstun said a simpler curriculum with more electives would have been better.

“The e-portfolio remains a mystery to me and my students, but perhaps we'll crack the code by the end of the semester,” Holstun said in an email.

Stott said he hopes students contact their advisors and ask for clarification if they are confused with the requirements.

“The Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and others managing the new curriculum need to learn to trust the curiosity of students and the competence of faculty more,” Holstun said. “But my seminar is going well: in the freshman seminar, as in so many of my classes at UB, I find that, when UB students read, write about and discuss books together, wonderful things happen.”

Sarah Crowley is the assistant news editor and can be reached at sarah.crowley@ubspectrum.com. Follow her on Twitter at @crowleyspectrum


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