Communicating about all the exciting things happening in General Education at Plymouth State University has been a major focus of my work for the past couple of weeks. I have been working on a series of infographics, web pages, and short presentations to get big points across quickly.
For example, I created an infographic to explain our approach to the Habits of Mind, which are the learning outcomes for the Gen Ed program. The image file for the infographic is publicly available (in high resolution) here so that anyone who wants to use it in their work as teachers, advisors, and/or scholars can do so. Anyone interested in the details of what each of the Habits of Mind can read them here. And the details of the signposts can be found here.
Another Gen Ed topic that I’ve been focused on is what it means for the Gen Ed program to contain three of the four tools of clusters as laid out by President Birx. We are starting to talk about “cluster pedagogy” as the set of characteristics that bring those tools together into a coherent curriculum. Those characteristics are:
- Interdisciplinarity and integration: Students are challenged to understand and use various disciplinary perspectives and to integrate those perspectives to create new and unique projects and/or solutions.
- Project-based work that extends beyond the walls of the classroom: Students work on projects that impact the world outside of the classroom in some way.
- Sharing with an external audience: Student work is shared with an audience external to the course.
As I wrote recently in a grant application:
An underlying idea of this framing of cluster pedagogy is that we are opening up the educational experience. Assignments that are seen only by the instructor of a course, for example, often feel like a chore for the student to complete and a chore for the instructor to grade. These assignments are often disposed of at the end of the semester (or before). In fact, in our learning management systems, when an instructor sets up a course for the semester, they often import all of the structures of the course from a previous semester. The only thing that is thrown away is the work of the students. Disposable work is minimized when we engage in cluster pedagogy. Using cluster pedagogy in the classroom means that we ask students to do at least some work that actually matters, work that is not entombed by the walls of the classroom. We break down boundaries between disciplines, between the classroom and “the real world,” between teacher and student so that we are learners together. By opening the educational experience, the work of students adds value to and has an impact on the wider world. Because students and instructors understand the meaning, value, and potential impact of the work, the educational experience no longer feels like a chore. Engaging in multiple open educational experiences created by cluster pedagogy supports students in their development of the Habits of Mind and prepares them for success after graduation.
Our vision of cluster pedagogy is informed by the wider movement toward open pedagogy that we see taking hold in higher education. We subscribe to the definition of open pedagogy articulated by DeRosa and Jhangiani in “What is Open Pedagogy?”. They write that open pedagogy is advocacy for the use of open educational resources merged with pedagogical approaches that emphasize “collaboration, connection, diversity, democracy, and critical assessment of educational tools and structures.” Cluster pedagogy is PSU’s particular implementation of open pedagogy in which we emphasize work on projects that reach beyond the walls of the classroom in a variety of ways. We believe that our particular implementation of open pedagogy can be a model for other universities interested in better preparing their students for success.
The final topic that I’ve been sharing is all the interesting new experiences we are providing to students in our classes next semester. Because we have long had a challenge communicating with students and advisors about new experiences, I created a web page in the General Education section of the PSU web site to advertise these experiences. That web page can be found here. I think that looking at all of these cool experiences in one place is inspiring! Focusing on curriculum and the ways in which we can provide meaningful educational experiences that support student success makes me feel like my day-to-day work is worthwhile.