news from North Dakota

This week I attended the Reflecting on Teaching Conference at the University of North Dakota.  Faculty and administrators there are part of a statewide effort to reform general education and transfer, and their thinking has a lot in common with ours.

For one, their state’s GE transfer curriculum is already in pretty good shape.  What they call the General Education Requirements Transfer Agreement, or GERTA, is a lot like our IGETC.  It’s just as efficient — carving the lower-division common core into discrete, interchangeable areas of coursework for maximum portability — and just as prone to downplaying the engaging, integrative, and purposeful aspects of education that may help us keep our students enrolled.  We spent much of our time together focusing on ways to preserve transferability while deepening the learning.

For another, people in North Dakota are considering the same changes we are:  wider incorporation of “high-impact practices” like learning communities, civic engagement, and undergraduate research, and use of a tool like Lumina’s Degree Qualifications Profile to focus educators and students alike on the goals of higher education.

There are a couple of striking differences from California, too.  For one, as the Association of American Colleges and Universities noted in a recent issue of Peer Review, North Dakota is unusual for inviting the whole spectrum of institutions into the conversation — private and tribal colleges as well as the easier-to-convene publics.

For another, they’re — well, they’re smaller than we are.  Lighter on their feet.  Even when they include schools from outside of their public system, they can get everyone into a room.  With room to spare for a tourist from California.

The inaugural meeting of the North Dakota General Education Council overlapped intentionally with the Reflecting on Teaching Conference.  Officers were elected, and it was hard not to get the sense of a newborn organization standing up for the first time.

What I came away envying the most was the sense of adventure.  They are leaving no assumptions unexamined.

Worth keeping an eye on.


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