General education goals occupy an important place in a community college; however, because of the varied nature of community college programs, working toward a shared vision can be difficult. In the past, we at Western Nebraska community College (WNCC) recognized the importance of a general education goal that emphasized personal development. For us, that goal was GE #5, and it was a rather pesky one.
For some time, we had a goal which read: General Education Goal #5–Personal Development: including mental and physical wellness, leadership, team work and life-long learning skills.
This was a lofty goal, indeed, and one which we tried to tackle, creating some rubrics primarily used in physical education courses that focused on physical wellness and which assessed how students worked as a team, but we felt the lack, especially in terms of accessible outcomes. In short, the goal was a fine ideal, but it was not taking us where we wanted to go. The Assessment Team cast around for options, first by trying to formulate thoughts across the wide array of programs and then by looking to other institutions. Nothing seemed to fit. Then we realized that our Developmental Education division had already lit upon the very thing we needed to make a goal of personal development both clear and, more importantly, amenable to assessment.
We found our path through our participation in and then adoption of the On-Course principles. I hesitate to say these are the principles of On-Course as developed by Skip Downing. Certainly Downing is the originator, but those who have worked within the On-Course system know that it is an organic being, growing with activities submitted by content area experts and ideas developed by student service specialists. For WNCC’s Academic Foundations Division, On-Course provided a nice blend of pedagogy and practice.
In any case, after dancing a bit on the fringes of the On-Course world, adapting an activity here and taking an idea there, we finally decided, through some workshop participation and studying available research, to more directly align the division with the idea that students’ choices drive their success and more clearly understand our role in helping students to make wise choices.
For us, the result was a broader understanding of the role of what it means to be a developmental educator. My colleague, Robin Hayhurst, so clearly spells out to me the difference between “remedial education,” in which a student lacks a narrow band of content area knowledge, and “developmental education,” in which a student not only learns content area knowledge, but also makes choices that lead to student success. We have incorporated activities that help students accept personal responsibility, discover motivation, master self-management, employ interdependence, gain self-awareness, adopt lifelong learning, develop emotional intelligence, and increase a sense of self. If student success can be seen as an iceberg then mastering content area information is that which is above the water, sticking out and easily seen, while the choices that students make, those behaviors which ensure their success—or failure—is the part of the iceberg under the water line, unseen, but the very thing that stabilizes our metaphoric berg.
Developmental educators may play an important role on a campus looking toward harnessing personal development for all students because this is our stock and trade. Our rubric, which we will use to assess the new goal, now reads:
GE5- Personal Development: Including an awareness of self and an engaged learner and collaborative contributor actively maintaining physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Students will be able to:
- Demonstrate an understanding of the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
- Exemplify personal responsibility.
- Increase motivation.
- Employ effective self-management.
- Demonstrate an understanding of group dynamics to include roles, rules and strategies of team activities.
- Examine and reflect on their choices, behaviors and attitudes.
Sometimes a series of happy circumstances coalesces to a move person or an institution in a direction it meant to head all along. Such a combination of happenstance occurred as WNCC re-envisioned its general education goals. It is interesting to note that the insights and knowledge of developmental educators at WNCC drove much of the change.
Susan Dickinson is an English Instructor for Western Nebraska Community College. To contact Susan, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.