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Intellect

Finding the Unexpected in General Education

BYU broadens student perspective with three new general classes

 

Imagine looking over to the student seated next to you in class and seeing BYU President Kevin J Worthen - talk about an unexpected connection.

Or is it? When asked if he could take any class at BYU, President Worthen said it would be one of the Unexpected Connection courses offered to students for General Education and Honors credits.

If the president thinks these classes rule, they probably rule.  

"These [are] interdisciplinary courses taught by faculty from very different departments," said President Worthen, in a Q&A posted on BYU.edu . "One examined the question of 'happiness' from the perspectives of biological science and various genres of literature. Another explored the question of 'agency' from the perspectives of physical science and culture. What a great way to broaden one's perspective on life."

Two Topics + One Question = Unexpected Connections

In each of the three Unexpected Connections courses offered, which began last fall, two professors from very different departments team up to teach. For example, Biology + Letters = UNIV 291, Physical Science + Global and Cultural Awareness = UNIV 292 and Social Sciences + Art = UNIV 293.

Students are taught the basic "general education" principles in each of the two disciplines. The class discussions and assignments are used to intertwine the general knowledge to answer a great question like: "Is happiness a matter or nature or nurture?" or "How much agency do we really have?" Students see how these disciplines view issues, and understand and develop their own perspective.  

And that's where the unexpected connections are found.

"By looking at big questions through the two lenses, we start to see how all disciplines can deal with big questions," said General Education Associate Dean and English Professor Debbie Dean, who helped create the courses and taught UNIV 292 last year. "This approach gives added meaning to what student should get out of their general education because it gives them greater perspective and understanding, while making connections about their studies that they would previously have never noticed."

Students develop the skills to make connections between the different subjects and courses they encounter at BYU and beyond. For example, they can connect what they learn about biology to what they learn in their religion, public relations or engineering classes.  

The professors hope students will continue making these types of connections as they continue their education and life-long learning.  

"We want the teachers to be models of engaged, life-long learning," said interim Dean for Undergraduate Education Joe Parry, who helped create the courses and taught UNIV 291 last year. "We want everyone to have the chance to get into something they don't know and see what it really means to learn."

Parry, Dean and John Bell, then dean of Undergraduate Education, developed these classes in response to a national conversation about making general education requirements more interdisciplinary. Educators across the nation want to make sure G.E. classes are not just introductory courses to a major, but give students an enriched learning experience focused on acquiring skills to learn better, and not just attaining knowledge.

"At the get-go you were challenged to look at thing with a different perspective," said Adam Skaggs, who took one of the classes and was a T.A. for UNIV 291. "I really gained so much more from the class than I was expecting. I gained an understanding of why others do what they do, why I do what I do and how we all see and think differently."

These classes are open to all students, and are part of the required honors curriculum. Plus, each class counts for two G.E. requirements. For example, taking UNIV 291 gives credit for both biology and letters G.E. requirements. Two sections of each course will be offered in Fall 2015, with more sections expected to be added in future semesters.  

Writer: Jenna Randle

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