General Education Maps and Markers (GEMs)

Because it is the nation’s largest educational program, involving virtually all degree-seeking students, general education provides the site and the opportunity to offer more equitably the kind of undergraduate education—a liberal and opportunity-expanding education—that both individuals and society need. AAC&U’s General Education Maps and Markers (GEMs) initiative is designed to develop principles through which institutions of higher education can create  general education curricula that focus on core proficiencies, intentional educational pathways within and across institutions, and students’ engagement in work that allows assessment of their demonstrated accomplishments in inquiry- and problem-based learning. GEMs principles are designed so that the next generation of general education programs will strengthen and integrate students’ broad learning across the liberal arts and sciences by connecting general education to big questions in society and to students’ major fields.

This new approach to general education is a dramatic departure from current practice, with implications both for institutional programs and practices and for higher education as a whole. Building from the Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP) published by Lumina Foundation in 2014, GEMs directly challenges both the fragmented and incoherent general education often found on traditional campuses and also the newer self-contained, “do-it-alone” courses that some entities are now promoting as alternative routes to general education credit. Through GEMs, AAC&U developed a clear set of principles and guidelines that, when incorporated into general education programs, can empower all students to develop their capacities through meaningful problem-based work as part of an intentional, coherent, engaging, and integrated educational experience.

Under a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, AAC&U convened three working groups and a quality assurance group comprised of faculty, academic leaders, policy leaders, and assessment and learning technology experts that developed the GEMs principles and an emerging set of existing practices exemplifying those principles. The principles and guidelines developed during the GEMs project planning year (November, 2013–December, 2014) present a new approach to general education design that is equity-minded, outcomes-based, and takes advantage of the opportunity of digital learning environments. In addition, through the GEMS/VALUE initiatives, AAC&U developed a suite of documents that describe and make the case for this new approach to general education.

GEMs Publications

The Future of GEMs

The GEMs framework provides the programmatic principles and guidelines that make it possible for students to meet the LEAP Challenge through intentional, cumulative pathways focused on problem-based inquiry. AAC&U will make the GEMs framework and supporting documents the cornerstone of its various meetings and institutes, as well as the focus of several grant-funded initiatives. To date, AAC&U has revised the curricula of the Institute on General Education and Assessment and the Institute on Integrative Learning and the Departments to reflect the GEMs principles. Combined, these institutes serve approximately 80 campuses per year. The GEMs principles and LEAP Challenge also play key roles in the Capstones and Signature Work, Faculty Collaboratives, and Transparency and Problem-Centered Learning projects, and are expected to form the framework of many future AAC&U projects.