Gen-Ed courses make students better

The process of creating a general education class is anything but short and simple. But there is a purpose for them.

Gen-Ed classes are designed to give students new perspectives on the world outside of their program.
“Courses are intended to make students more well rounded,” says Kevin Baker, dean for the School of Interdisciplinary Studies and Employment Services.
Some courses offered a Durham College include Psychology, History of Popular Music, Pseudoscience, and Introduction to Women’s Studies
Classes such as French, Physics, and Biology are not considered a Gen-Ed because they are applied courses, according to Baker.
“The course cannot be a how-to,” he says, adding Gen-Ed courses must also be unrelated to the student’s field of study. “General education courses typically are to broaden someone’s perspective outside of their vocational area.”
Elective classes develop stronger soft skills such as critical thinking and problem solving used in the workplace, according to the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. They sharpen soft skills such as critical thinking, writing, and team work, according to Baker.
These key employability skills may not always be improved in mandatory courses, he adds. Louise Stiles, the career services outreach coordinator at Durham College, says communication skills are one of the most important skills employers look for when hiring. Communication skills are a soft skill that can be developed in a general education elective.
“Employers want someone who can convey ideas through written word and speaking, regardless of their program,” says Stiles.
When creating a general education course, the class must fit into one of five categories, according to Baker. They include science and technology, arts and society, social and cultural understanding, civic life, and personal understanding.
Kathleen Flynn, a partial load professor at Durham College, says it took her about a year and a half to create her Deviance class, a course that introduces students to the ideas of socially unacceptable behaviour.
Flynn says she put a lot of effort into creating her course, including doing reviews of other courses, contacting publishers to find recent Canadian texts and online resources, and figuring out what’s already offered at Durham and if the course was needed.
“It took probably about a hundred hours,” says Flynn.
After review, she proposed her idea.
“I put together a version of Intro to Crime that I thought might be applicable from a variety of programs,” says Flynn.
Baker says his school receives ideas from faculty and students at Durham College and the selection of courses to create is proposal-based.
When ideas are proposed, the submitting members sit down as a team and go over ideas to be approved for development, he says.
Baker says the faculty teaching the course also helps with the creation of the course.There is a three-step approval process.
The proposal must be submitted to the general education coordinator who is a faculty member. The coordinator reviews the outline and then the proposals go to Baker.
Students have mixed feelings about the value of taking a general education class to graduate.