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Serving the Greater Good: Delivering General Education Outcomes in a Small Liberal Arts College
Unformatted Document Text:  The data in Table 2.1 includes assessment of student learning outcomes associated with two principal Political Science major outcomes: DO1. Understand and demonstrate research and analysis skills.DO5. Demonstrate comprehension of the discipline of political science. Departmental outcome #1 focuses on student analytic, research, and general critical thinking skills as demonstrated in advanced level political science courses within the context of a research paper or project. The data suggests that over 80% of students enrolled in these upper-level POLS courses either met or exceeded expectations regarding these skills. These courses include many which may be taken for general education credit; however, all of them were open to (and did enroll) non-majors. Similarly, for Outcome #5 we measured student performance on final exams within these courses. These exams were designed to include comprehensive course information and generally represent student acquisition of core concepts as well as appropriate content associated with the course subject matter. Again, over 80% of the enrolled students met or exceeded the expectations. Consistent with our analysis of meeting the needs of general education learning, student performance in these courses indicates strong disciplinary learning. Serving the Greater Good: Synergies and Opportunities for Undergraduate Political Science Courses in the General Education Curriculum Our analysis of student learning, both general education and disciplinary, suggests that one need not sacrifice disciplinary instruction in methods, theory, and analysis in the process of welcoming general education students to the Political Science classroom. Indeed, our research suggests that majors benefit from the interaction with non-majors while both groups demonstrate strong performance in significant measures of disciplinary learning. This approach also yields a relatively modest level of dissatisfactory or sub-par student learning. While 6-15% of student may be partially proficient or not-proficient with respect to these learning outcomes, our analysis suggests that many of these students (majors and non-majors alike) may still have made some progress toward important disciplinary, methodological, communication, and dispositional learning. The high rate of success does not come without certain upfront costs. The pedagogies employed are labor intensive. Disciplinary competency often comes as a result of frequent student exercises associated with the material (quizzes, précis, short papers, oral reports, etc.). Similarly, the department’s commitment to analytical reasoning skills, critical thinking exercises, and effective research strategies are embedded in multi-stage projects that require significant faculty feedback. The College’s emphatic commitment to high quality undergraduate education encourages a culture focused on intensive faculty-student interaction, which has obvious implications for resources (and time) available for individual faculty research. The department’s performance in this regard has not gone unnoticed by colleagues and administration across campus. Political science enjoys a strong reputation on campus. The department (as a whole) has nearly tripled its enrollment over the past five years, even while maintaining parity regarding its obligations to general services courses. Overall enrollment has increased despite the transition to a five course annual load (versus a six course load) and a related reduction in the number of courses offered. Finally, all of these factors contribute to a substantial, although impossible to measure, indicator of programmatic success. The POLS faculty enjoy extraordinary job satisfaction found in an atmosphere where these pedagogical innovations are appreciated (by students and administration alike). The success of this pedagogical approach still creates several challenges. As enrollment grows, Lopez & McKinlay, 17

Authors: Lopez, Lillian. and McKinlay, Patrick.
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The data in Table 2.1 includes assessment of student learning outcomes associated with two
principal Political Science major outcomes:
DO1. Understand and demonstrate research and analysis skills.
DO5. Demonstrate comprehension of the discipline of political science.
Departmental outcome #1 focuses on student analytic, research, and general critical thinking
skills as demonstrated in advanced level political science courses within the context of a research paper
or project. The data suggests that over 80% of students enrolled in these upper-level POLS courses
either met or exceeded expectations regarding these skills. These courses include many which may be
taken for general education credit; however, all of them were open to (and did enroll) non-majors.
Similarly, for Outcome #5 we measured student performance on final exams within these courses.
These exams were designed to include comprehensive course information and generally represent
student acquisition of core concepts as well as appropriate content associated with the course subject
matter. Again, over 80% of the enrolled students met or exceeded the expectations. Consistent with
our analysis of meeting the needs of general education learning, student performance in these courses
indicates strong disciplinary learning.
Serving the Greater Good: Synergies and Opportunities for Undergraduate Political Science Courses
in the General Education Curriculum
Our analysis of student learning, both general education and disciplinary, suggests that one
need not sacrifice disciplinary instruction in methods, theory, and analysis in the process of welcoming
general education students to the Political Science classroom. Indeed, our research suggests that
majors benefit from the interaction with non-majors while both groups demonstrate strong
performance in significant measures of disciplinary learning. This approach also yields a relatively
modest level of dissatisfactory or sub-par student learning. While 6-15% of student may be partially
proficient or not-proficient with respect to these learning outcomes, our analysis suggests that many of
these students (majors and non-majors alike) may still have made some progress toward important
disciplinary, methodological, communication, and dispositional learning.
The high rate of success does not come without certain upfront costs. The pedagogies
employed are labor intensive. Disciplinary competency often comes as a result of frequent student
exercises associated with the material (quizzes, précis, short papers, oral reports, etc.). Similarly, the
department’s commitment to analytical reasoning skills, critical thinking exercises, and effective
research strategies are embedded in multi-stage projects that require significant faculty feedback. The
College’s emphatic commitment to high quality undergraduate education encourages a culture focused
on intensive faculty-student interaction, which has obvious implications for resources (and time)
available for individual faculty research.
The department’s performance in this regard has not gone unnoticed by colleagues and
administration across campus. Political science enjoys a strong reputation on campus. The department
(as a whole) has nearly tripled its enrollment over the past five years, even while maintaining parity
regarding its obligations to general services courses. Overall enrollment has increased despite the
transition to a five course annual load (versus a six course load) and a related reduction in the number
of courses offered. Finally, all of these factors contribute to a substantial, although impossible to
measure, indicator of programmatic success. The POLS faculty enjoy extraordinary job satisfaction
found in an atmosphere where these pedagogical innovations are appreciated (by students and
administration alike).
The success of this pedagogical approach still creates several challenges. As enrollment grows,
Lopez & McKinlay, 17


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