General education learning is an iterative and integrative process that develops throughout the course of an undergraduate student's time at Lesley.
In the twentieth century, general education was largely synonymous with the well known “general education distribution”—a combination of requirements and electives in the major academic disciplines. Students took their “gen eds” in their first and second years and then moved on to study in the major. In recent years, however, a broader conception of general education has emerged. Increasingly, general education is understood to involve not only general education courses, but study in the major as well-- and, where it exists, experiential learning. General education learning, the new thinking goes, is an iterative and integrative process that develops over all four years of study— deeper and broader than two years of study allow for.
Related to this change is the adoption by many colleges of general education learning goals—statements of purpose about what students are intended to learn, as well as the “habits of mind” associated with such learning. Common learning goals include critical reasoning skills, quantitative and scientific reasoning, social responsibility and civic awareness, an understanding of diverse cultures, and an inclination toward lifelong learning. Reflective of the longstanding tradition of “liberal education” that defines undergraduate learning, these goals make explicit the purpose of general education for faculty and students alike.
General education at Lesley University reflects these changes. As at other institutions, undergraduate students complete a series of general education courses based in the humanities, math and science, and the social sciences. However, study in the major and experiential learning are also seen as key contributors to the general education learning goals. This integrative view of general education has defined Lesley’s conception of general education learning for well over a decade now.
To insure that students are achieving the goals associated with general education, Lesley assesses courses on an ongoing basis. Assessment focuses on how well students are achieving the learning goals and identifies ways to improve the learning experience. This year, the college conducted a survey among juniors and seniors to examine how internships contribute to the general education learning goals. The findings affirm that internships play an important role in general education, especially with respect to the goals related to social and civic responsibility, an understanding of diverse cultures, and an inclination toward lifelong learning.
This September will see a major addition to the general education curriculum, reflective of the college’s emphasis on interdisciplinary learning. Starting this fall, all first year students will take the newly created LUCID Seminar, a course that explores an important theme or topic from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Titled “Courage, Risk, Uncertainty,” the seminar will be taught by faculty from all of the major academic disciplines.
In the history of American higher education, general education has never been static. With new understandings about how students learn and changes in society at large, colleges have continuously revamped their general education programs to best meet students’ and society’s needs. The changes in general education at Lesley over the last ten years reflect changes in both pedagogy and the world at large--changes that will better prepare students for the 21st century.
Richard G. Weissman
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