Virginia Tech approved a new general education curriculum, Pathways to General Education, that will replace the current Curriculum for Liberal Education. The curriculum passed University Council Monday afternoon.

The new plan offers students three options to fulfill their general education requirements:

  • A distributed model in which students choose approved courses from each learning outcome. This option is most similar to the current Curriculum for Liberal Education.
  • A Pathways Minor, which are interdisciplinary, such as sustainability and innovation, designed to fulfill multiple learning outcome requirements.
  • An Alternate Pathway, which is individualized by the student with oversight from a faculty advisor and may include experiences such as education abroad, undergraduate research, service learning, internships, co-curricular experiences, and more.

“It is our responsibility to give students the skills to succeed in a diverse and complex world,” said President Timothy D. Sands. “The Pathways General Education curriculum empowers students to choose a pathway that aligns with their goals and interests while meeting the needs of employers that are looking for graduates who can think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems. Integration of ethical reasoning and intercultural and global awareness across the curriculum is in alignment with the university’s InclusiveVT efforts.”

Over the past two years, the campus community participated in the curricular development process in a variety of ways. Faculty teams — which included 50 members from 32 departments representing all colleges with undergraduate programs — created the new learning outcomes for this curriculum.

“We sought out faculty members from a variety of disciplines to play an active role in the development of the curriculum, particularly those who have been recognized by faculty peers and students for excellence in teaching such as Academy of Teaching Excellence members and Diggs Teaching Scholars,” said Provost Mark G. McNamee. “The teams developed goals so that students would best understand what they are gaining from the general education curriculum.”

In addition, the general education leadership team held more than 130 meetings with colleges, departments, curriculum committees, Faculty Senate, and individual faculty members to gather input. An open house was held in April 2014 to solicit campuswide feedback.

“I have watched the individual members of the University Curriculum Committee for Liberal Education and the general education leadership team work tirelessly for years to meet with departments, colleges, the Faculty Senate, and individual faculty to develop the best possible revision to our core curriculum with the most input from experts across the university,” said Sarah Karpanty, associate professor, assistant department head, and graduate program coordinator in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation and past faculty senate president. “Now, the hard work starts anew as we begin to revise and deliver individual and linked courses and pathways minors under this new model.”

Over the past academic year, eight faculty members are serving as Pathways Faculty Scholars, piloting courses and developing minors that promote best practices for general education.

“As Pathways Faculty Scholars, we support the new Pathways outcomes not just through the subject matter we teach, but also through how we teach it,” said Ann-Marie Knoblauch, associate professor of art history and associate director of academics in the School of Visual Arts and Pathways Faculty Scholar. “As a cohort we are challenging each other and ourselves to step away from a traditional classroom experience, such as lecturing to a room of students taking notes, and explore ways of delivering the content in new and engaging ways.”

Student voice was critical to the development of Pathways to General Education. The general education leadership team gathered feedback through Student Government Association leadership and student representation on governance committees.

Student focus groups held throughout curriculum development engaged diverse populations of students, such as student veterans, transfer students, student athletes, and underrepresented minority students, as well as students from a variety of majors. The focus groups informed planning teams what students appreciated from the current general education curriculum and what else they hoped to gain from it.

“Pathways provides students dynamic, applicable, and formative means of fulfilling their general education requirements,” said Andrew Schoka of Fairfax, Virginia, a junior majoring in industrial and systems engineering in the College of Engineering. Schoka is an Student Government Association representative and member of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets. “Virginia Tech is uniquely positioned to offer students opportunities that would not be available elsewhere through Pathways Minors and the Alternative Pathways. The level of interdisciplinary collaboration to create Pathways Minors, even at this early stage, is encouraging to see. I am unbelievably excited for the classes of future Hokies that will be able to take full advantage of the curriculum.”

Members of the University Curriculum Committee for Liberal Education with support from the general education leadership team will now develop an implementation plan that will work through university governance. The intent is for Pathways to General Education to be in effect for students entering in fall 2016, though students who begin prior to that will be able to take pathways courses to meet Curriculum for Liberal Education requirements.

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