General Education Maps and Markers (GEMs)

General Education Maps and Markers (GEMs) represents a large-scale, systematic effort to provide “design principles” for 21st-century learning and long-term student success. GEMs is supported by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which will fund one year of initial work on GEMs and the interrelated VALUE (Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education) initiative. GEMs draws upon AAC&U’s longstanding work in liberal education to develop a portable and proficiency-based framework for general education that helps all students, and especially those who have been traditionally underserved by higher education, learn most effectively and demonstrate and apply their learning outside the classroom. GEMs will be keyed to the proficiencies which have been broadly articulated in the Degree Qualification Profile (DQP), and which represent the adaptive, cross-cutting, inquiry-based capacities necessary for economic and civic flourishing.

In partnership with a broad spectrum of public and private institutions in selected states, GEMs will develop and pilot a framework for general education that engages students deeply in their own learning. The framework will map DQP proficiencies across learning experiences and develop pathways for a holistic, cornerstone-to-capstone focus on high-impact practices, inquiry- and problem-centered projects, and increasing levels of challenge.

Along these intentional pathways, students will demonstrate their accomplishments through authentic work on signature assignments. By aligning general education pathways, GEMs seeks to ensure that all students, particularly today’s mobile and diverse students, continuously engage in problem-centered learning in every institution they attend, enabling speedier progress toward degree attainment and producing the needed levels of learning.

GEMs will be facilitated by the Design, Digital, and Equity Working Groups. These three interconnected working groups will use research on best practices in promoting broad-based competencies, especially for supporting underserved students’ persistence and achievement and in using technological innovations that enhance learning for all students. The work of the project will be overseen by the Quality Assurance Group.

Program Goals

 GEMs will move higher education from designs for general education based solely on credits earned and “breadth/depth” coverage to a 21st-century vision of general education that integrates students’ learning experiences braided together from cornerstone to capstone and focused on key Essential Learning Outcomes; proficiencies across all levels of learning (first to final year); hands-on, high-impact practices; and students’ active involvement in projects and portfolios that make visible their demonstrated achievement.

The general education “maps and markers” will help today’s diverse and mobile students gain the skills and demonstrate the competencies outlined in the DQP.

Finally, GEMs will promote the use of technology and electronic resources to consistently and equitably support authentic student work, assessment of learning outcomes, and portability of credit.

To learn more about the Gates grant and how GEMs will reinforce VALUE, please refer to the GEMs/VALUE press release