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Faculty Forum Papers

General Education Models (GEM) Project OSU Faculty Survey RE: General Education Report of Findings By

The GEM Committee:

Carol Carroll - French
George Carson - History
Richard Clinton - Liberal Arts
Michael Coolen - Music
Lloyd Crisp - Speech Communication
Warren Hovland - Religious Studies
Roger Penn - Student Services
Jack Rettig - School of Business

September, 1980

Last spring the GEM committee distributed to 985 faculty members a survey focusing on the goals of general education. Specifically the questionnaire defined ten dimensions often embraced by the concept of general education and asked each faculty member to rank each dimension on two scales: A) for its relative importance to the general education of all students graduating from OSU and B) for the relative success we are presently achieving in providing it.

Because research on survey methods indicates a decline in response rate for every question pertaining to the respondent's identity, we sacrificed requests for information that would have enabled us to report rankings by school, discipline rank and age, etc. Nevertheless, because the School of Business handled the collection of their questionnaires separately, and because the College of Liberal Arts faculty had responded to the same survey the preceding spring, we can at least provide three displays of results for comparative purposes. The response rate in the CLA survey, with follow-ups, was an exceptionally high 74.6% (167 of 224). Among the OSU faculty at large, without follow-ups, the response rate was a very gratifying 47.6%. These rates are prima facie evidence of the widespread concern at OSU for the student's education.

The ten elements, dimensions, or goals of general education listed (and defined fairly specifically) on the questionnaire were:

Aesthetic CommunicationHistorical/Cross Cultural

Obviously all ten items are important, some would say equally important, aspects of a general education. It is, indeed, a frustrating task to try to rank such a list of "essentials". Nevertheless, some patterns of greater need for certain dimensions that for others could exist among OSU students, hence the rationale for surveying those who are in the best position to have observed such patterns.

It should be recalled that the questionnaire was originally designed for use within the College of Liberal Arts, hence it omitted dimensions falling outside the purview or CLA (such as Mathematics, Science, Technology, etc.). Unquestionably these dimensions are of crucial are of crucial importance to an adequate general education in today's world, but because of our university's structure they fall within the bailiwick of the College of Science, which declined our invitation to join us in reexamining the effectiveness of OSU's present distribution approach to general education.

The rankings of the ten goals by the OSU faculty are as follows:

RankBusinessCLAOther SchoolsAll OSU Faculty
3SyntheticSyntheticEthicalTie: Ethical & Synthetic
4ReadingEthicalSyntheticTie: Ethical & Synthetic
Cross Cultural
Cross Cultural
Cross Cultural
Cross Cultural

The consensus on what constitute the most essential dimensions or goals of general education for OSU students is striking; all agree that the six areas of greatest importance are 1) communication, 2) analytical, 3) ethical, 4) synthetic, 5) reading, 6) citizenship.

The internal consistency of these responses is shown to be high by the reoccurrence of the same six dimensions in the top six places in the section of the questionnaire that asked the faculty to list the five most important goals of general education. The rankings there for all OSU faculty were:

1. Communication7. Value
2. Analytical8. Ecological
3. Reading9. Others (usually science - and technology-related)
4. Ethical
5. Synthetic10. Historical/Cross Cultural
6. Citizenship11. Aesthetic

It is sometimes debated whether general education refers more to the development of certain basic skills or to the acquisition of a certain core or body of knowledge and values. Astutely, we think, the OSU faculty rejects this as a false dichotomy. At OSU general education is clearly conceived as embracing skills (analytical, communication, synthetic, reading) plus substantive knowledge (ethics, citizenship, and, somewhat less centrally, ecology, history, and aesthetics).
The questionnaire also asked the faculty to make a judgement, based on the students each has known, concerning how well or poorly each dimension is presently being provided at OSU. For a variety of reasons, many declined to hazard an answer to this question. The somewhat puzzling results of the responses received follow (ranked according to declining success):

RankAll OSU FacultyRankAll OSU Faculty
2Ecological7Historical/Cross Cultural

Perhaps the most significant inference supported by the data from this section of the questionnaire is the very low degree of success currently being achieved at OSU in the communication dimension of general education, the dimension that everyone considered the single most important element of the general education complex.

Those of us working on the revision of OSU's general education program are very grateful to all the many faculty members who contributed their time and thought to respond to our questionnaire, especially to those who wrote additional comments. We are encouraged by your responses, for we understand that the goals of general education will not be met in any specific set of courses but must be achieved in part in every class a student takes.

Again, thank you for your assistance.