Survey shows ‘hint of success’ for CCAS requirements

Students called GW’s refocused general requirement courses in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences harder than their other courses, according a University survey to gauge the curriculum’s effectiveness that garnered few responses.

Despite the low participation rate in the survey, administrators praised the emerging results of the revamped course system – dubbed GPAC for its focus on perspective, analysis and communication – which was implemented last fall to ramp up rigor and improve learning focus.

Dan Ullman, Columbian College’s associate dean for undergraduate studies, said other universities usually see students skating through their general course requirements – a trend GW looked to buck. He noted that the school will measure learning goals, defined differently by each academic department, more comprehensively this summer.

Only 30 percent of students responded through Blackboard to the survey, a rate that Ullman said allowed for “a preliminary hint of success.”

“The direct measures of student learning may tell us more,” Ullman said. “But I am delighted to see that the hint suggests that we may be succeeding in our goal of building a challenging curriculum.”

About 6,800 students were enrolled in at least one GPAC course last semester.

Students were asked to rate the course system’s appeal, difficulty and educational value on a scale of zero to four. Ullman, who is also a math professor, said the average rating for course difficulty on the scale was 2.33, slightly above the center mark of being “neither easier nor harder than other courses.”

Economics professor Irene Foster, who has taught introductory courses under both general course systems, said the GPAC system improved communication between different professors of the same courses, requiring those professors to make uniform learning goals.

“We are expecting the intro levels to be more rigorous. This is what the job market is going to be like,” Foster said. “We’re not doing anyone any favors by teaching a watered down course.”

Though each GPAC course looked to improve learning, some students say the requirements are still a lost cause.

“In my math class, everyone was in there in order to get the credit,” freshman Lucy Emery, who has not declared a major in Columbian College, said. “No one in the class was genuinely interested in math.”

The new system, implemented for the Class of 2015, was designed with fewer required courses and more electives in hopes that students would be “challenged and engaged by their coursework from the minute they enter the University,” Columbian College Dean Peg Barratt said.

Columbian College faculty approved the general course requirements overhaul in April 2010, making it the first major change to the college’s core curriculum in 20 years. The change cut the general course requirements from 42 credits to 24 credits and decreased the number of math and natural science requirements.

Students cannot use AP or IB credits to opt out of the requirements.

“While we still believe in a broad liberal education, we also know that students learn the most when they take the courses that most interest them,” Ullman said.

Cory Weinberg contributed to this report.

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