OSHKOSH - Looking back on your freshman year of college, how many general education classes do you remember? How many did you enjoy? At UW-Oshkosh, school leaders found students' answers to both were often "not many." Now the university has changed its gen ed program to make it more meaningful for students.
This is one of UW-Oshkosh freshman Garrett Backman's general education classes, but it doesn't take place in a big lecture hall. It's more focused on class participation.
"I'm talking all the time, arguing with the professor, but she likes it so I'm having a lot of fun," said Backman.
Junior Grayson Bourke told FOX 11 it's a big change from the classes he took for his freshman gen eds.
"It was a bit overwhelming as a freshman to be in a new city with new people and be in a lecture pit where I wasn't encouraged to participate," explained Bourke.
Now instead of the traditional gen ed lectures, UW Oshkosh launched its “University Studies Program” this fall.
All freshman and sophomores take "quest classes" which connect to an individual's major and teach employable skills.
"Oral communication, written communication, critical and creative thinking, leadership skills, small group skills," explained program director Lori Carrell.
Each freshman quest has 25 students. Each student picks a writing or communication class and another academic course. Those include such classes as "The Creative Process" and "Geography of Coffee." Those classes also have older peer mentors, an upper classman, like Bourke, who helps guide them through classes and campus life.
"To get to know the campus, to get to know the community, to get to know each other while also exploring academic possibilities," explained associate political science professor Tracy Slagter.
In their second year, the students will be partnered with an alumni mentor and with a community partner. The goal is to learn about community involvement through partnerships with a group such as the local food pantry.
"To really get a sampling of what else exists beyond the classroom and hopefully use that to engage in things like study abroad in the future or service trips," explained the civic engagement projects coordinator Mike Lueder.
The final step is to connect all of the previous semesters' experiences into an advanced writing piece and electronic portfolio.
The three major goals of the quests are to learn about civic engagement, culture and sustainability.
The school hopes this experience leads to a better retention rate. The university said several hundred students quit at the end of the first year.
"To give students the best possible start to a university education and to encourage them to continue with it," explained Slagter.
The American Association of Colleges and University has recognized the new program as one of five models of progressive general education nationwide.
UW-Oshkosh started designing the program in 2007.
On Wednesday, a state committee will release its recommendations on what Wisconsin should do with the Common Core standards.
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