Campus News

UK Gets to the Core of General Education

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (Aug. 23, 2011) — University of Kentucky sophomore Brittany Courtney went into a freshman writing class last fall with the same thought that many of her accounting major peers do each semester.

"I'm not a writer, but I've always done well in my English classes," said the Frankfort native, who found herself wholly unprepared for lecturer Beth Connors Manke of the College of Arts and Sciences Division of Writing, Rhetoric and Digital Media. "Halfway through the first semester, Dr. Beth sat me down, and we went through my writing, line by line."

By the spring, Courtney successfully completed the pilot class, Composition and Communication I and was doing well in the follow-up course, Composition and Communication II.

Perhaps more importantly she began to see how a general education requirement could really help in her future endeavors.

"If I have to make a presentation for my job in the future, I feel prepared," she said. "The one-on-one instruction, small groups and creative assignments of my writing class opened up a new world to me."

That sentiment — the idea of preparing students with the critical thinking skills they need to succeed in a competitive global economy — is the basis for UK's new general education requirements, also known as UKCore.

UKCore, which is fully integrated as of the fall 2011 semester, is a course of study that all students, regardless of major, must complete, replacing the University Studies Program (USP) requirements that UK had in place since the mid-1980s.

Those core classes embody what the university believes every student will need to not only compete in a 21st century economy, but also participate in democratic self-governance and live a life of purpose and meaning.

"Any core curriculum that is supposed to apply to all students over a period of time needs to be reexamined," explained Provost Kumble R. Subbaswamy, who originally led the charge to revamp UK's general education curriculum eight years ago. "If you think about when the old general education curriculum was put in place — that was before the Internet existed; the Soviet Union was still around."

More than 120 UK faculty members have been involved in the process, from evaluating USP, to creating learning outcomes and then turning those broad concepts into undergraduate classroom curriculum.

"This is a whole new chapter in our general education," said UK Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education Mike Mullen. "We're asking students to become an active part of the classroom, engage with the content, to become critical thinkers and users of information and to solve problems."

UKCore is based upon four learning outcomes; a student who graduates from UK should be able to do certain things.

  •  Many classes in the College of Arts and Sciences, as well as the College of Fine Arts will focus on a student's understanding of and ability to employ the processes of intellectual inquiry.

"People are afraid to play… to step outside the lines," said Marty Henton, senior lecturer in art education, who will be teaching three classes of " Pathways to Creativity in the Visual Arts" this fall. "Some of my favorite students over the years have been the ones that say they can't draw. OK. Good. Let's work. Part of my job is to take away some of the stereotypes kids learned in high school and get back to the child-life quality that each one of us has innately."


For Henton, stepping outside of the box is the next step to innovation and thoughtful creativity. "If we give cookie cutter projects to our students, then we're going to get cookies," she said. "Solving problems through critical thinking — that's what we want in this arts and creativity learning outcome."


  • By combining writing and communication requirements, Composition and Communication 1 & II will assist students in their written, oral and visual communication skills — both as producers and consumers of information.

"When we teach writing, the focus is often on writing for other classes, instead of writing for life," said Roxanne Mountford, director of the Division of Writing, Rhetoric and Digital Media in the College of Arts and Sciences. "Writing is a part of the larger communication process; addressing modalities like texting, interpersonal communication, public speaking, writing and digital media together in one class, students see that these are all connected. And students can choose the most appropriate form of communication for a particular situation."

  • A third UKCore learning outcome emphasizes quantitative reasoning.

"There's so much misunderstanding about what a statistics course should be about," said Bill Rayens, director of Undergraduate Studies, assistant provost for General Education and professor in the Department of Statistics . "Statistics has far less to do with formulas than with understanding the reasons behind the statistics."

The ability for students to make informed decisions with data will play a major role in UKCore quantitative classes. "Students will be evaluating data in the real world," said Mullen. "We've placed great emphasis on using information, instead of memorizing information."

  • The complexities of citizenship and the process for making informed choices as engaged citizens in a diverse and multilingual world rounds out the UKCore, as manifested in the 10-panel "Nation of Nations" art exhibit that will reside for the 2011-12 academic year in the William T. Young Library.

"Nation of Nations" is an exploration of people, place and promise through a stunning visual representation. 

"This new curriculum involves something that's well beyond training students for a task," said Rayens. "Students will be learning by doing, as well as answering larger and more important questions."

While learning outcomes are more important than hours, UKCore curriculum requirements have decreased from 42 hours to 30, which will be a great help to students finishing their degrees on time. But these 30 hours do promise to be more challenging and engaging than general education classes of the past.

"You won't be able to get out of public speaking," said Mountford. "But over 90 percent of our students in the first semester of our pilot class wanted to continue on. It's tough, but in this world, students realize that they need this type of education and experience."

"Students won't be sitting, listening to a lecture in these classes, and that can be uncomfortable at first," added Rayens. "But I've heard a lot of positive feedback."

"This approach of 'I've got to get these hours done and then move on to my major' is no longer," said Mullen. "UKCore will be interspersed throughout the four or five years students are on campus. We're setting the foundations for our students to become informed, engaged citizens when they leave UK."