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General Education and Assessment: 
A Sea Change in Student Learning

Network for Academic Renewal Conference
February 28-March 2, 2013
Boston Park Plaza, Boston, Massachusetts

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell

From Shakespeare's The Tempest, 1610

Resources and Session Materials

Conference Overview

General education is familiar terrain. Yet every decade or so, we turn our attention to this familiar terrain as if it had suddenly become strange, in need of further exploration and discovery, as if it might become a (brave) new world.

Facing the accreditation visit, we organize committees and working groups to explore information, prepare data displays, respond to each required component of the report, and exert many hours of time and ergs of energy to gain a passing grade. In short, we become exactly like many of our students as they make their way through our courses and institutions toward a grade, a degree, or other credential as part of a larger life course that they can only imagine.

The demands of the 21st century present urgent challenges, as we think through designs for and outcomes of general education.  Leading indicators of student preparedness for life and work in this technologically advanced, globally interdependent, and politically fractured society make these challenges crystal clear.  Employers are questioning college graduates’ capacities in the very knowledge and skills at the heart of general education.  Daily news reveals a public uneducated about the issues central to their well-being and unable to engage in civil discourse and political will to improve the common good.  The context for general education has changed enough to require us to think in new ways about all our assumptions.

The Sea Change:

AAC&U hears more and more frequently that no less than a sea change – a radical transformation in general education and its assessment – will suffice to assure that all students progress through college along a plan of study that connects their interests and talents with success in careers and with responsibility in their communities and the global commons.

Increasingly, AAC&U members report efforts to create more integrative, developmentally nuanced general education programs that move from a checklist approach toward a more intentional and coherent scaffolding of student learning goals and outcomes. New general education designs—horizontally and vertically integrated—feature high impact practices that benefit all students. More authentic measurements of student capacities are challenging the standard metrics and definition of the credit hour. Colleagues ask whether the return on such investments in redesigned general education models and practices will enhance study in the majors and better prepare students for work, life, and citizenship in a democratic nation and a global society.

These efforts to better understand and lead change provide the focus for this conference —discussing new meanings of quality in the undergraduate curriculum, exploring ways to integrate and scaffold learning of the Essential Learning Outcomes in connection with learning in the majors, and building high-impact assessments based on actual student work.

Please join AAC&U to discuss this ambitious new vision and strategies for a quality general education in a global 21st century.

We invite you to propose sessions that will discuss and demonstrate frameworks and strategies that put Principles of Excellence and cumulative learning at the center of new designs for general education and assessment including the Degree Qualifications Profile as a possible framework for connecting student learning across and among institutions.


Please contact the Development Office at (202) 884-7421 or e-mail for information about sponsorship opportunities for this conference.