Center for Teaching Excellence




The Common Good

CTE_logo_web.jpgA teaching and learning newsletter

Produced by the Center for Teaching Excellence and the Student Committee on Teaching Excellence (SCTE), with input from the students of SUNY Plattsburgh. Vol. 2, issue 1. Read other issues

Student Survey Question: What are your thoughts about the Gen. Ed. requirements?

It may come as a surprise to some faculty, but students don’t generally dismiss the Gen. Ed. Courses as irrelevant to their studies. In fact, they are far more reflective and appreciative about how these courses contribute to their educational experience than we might assume. They see the courses as providing new ways to understand their own discipline and as an absolute must for inspiring those students who are undeclared.

Most student complaints about Gen. Ed. stem from the availability of courses in specific GE categories, the class sizes, and the way the classes are taught (which has to do with lack of consistency in the quality of teaching and the degree to which the classes do or don’t challenge them).

Frustrations with GE requirements can derive from feelings that some students are better prepared for college than others, leaving the more prepared with the sense that they are repeating their high school experiences. Others are frustrated by the experience of being in classes that are split in population between majors and those who are taking the course just to fill the requirement. Large classes exacerbate these issues and reduce motivation for class engagement. Students want to see more courses that have some clearer relation to their majors, and would like departments to offer a suggestion list of those courses that fulfill the requirements and will contribute to their field of study.

Excerpts of Student Responses

"Gen. Eds. provide important insight and knowledge on academic fields beyond one’s major field of study. Moreover, they give a better world-view of issues both in the historical perspective or current state of events." — Mohamed Rajani

"I feel the Gen. Ed. Requirements are a key component to your college academics. These courses are so diverse that they get your mind moving and questioning what you know. You also get to know a little bit about everything." —Janelle Dunkleman

"Too broad, too much overlap with high school, too dependent on teaching styles. The purpose is to ensure a well-rounded education, but when students just want to pass and teachers are so aggravated that Gen. Eds. get treated like a hassle, it’s not worth it." — Sean Weiss

Teaching Suggestion from the SCTE

"Since one of the objectives of the Gen. Ed. courses is to help us understand how other disciplines are relevant to our own, design the material and assignments in a way that emphasizes how the course is relevant."

Students on Teaching General Education Courses

What gets rave reviews:

  • Instructors who bring their passion for their discipline to these lower-level courses
  • Instructors who treat the course as if it has as much educational value as upper-level courses

What doesn’t:

  • Asking students why they took the course (we all know why and asking us to say it just creates a negative attitude from the beginning)
  • Busy work; overloading the course with work that doesn’t have a clear purpose

Students on Learning

If you want to be successful in Gen. Ed. classes, do this:

  • Be open-minded; you never know when something new will inspire you
  • If you’re bored, put some energy into the class and find your own ways to make it relevant

Don’t do this:

  • Don’t treat the class like it’s your lowest priority
  • Don’t come into class with a resentful attitude

The September Teacher of the Month

Vincent Carey, Ph.D., Professor, History

Excerpts from nominating submissions
"Dr. Carey's excitement and passion for history shine through every day in his classes. He loves his subject and he engages students with his lively lecturing and interesting audio-visual supplements. He knows how to keep students interested." —Frances Ercolano

"Dr. Carey is an excellent teacher. He really gets the class going and makes you want to learn."—Virgillo Hunter

Vincent Carey stands in a fine tradition of Plattsburgh teachers who are characterized by their energy in the classroom and learner-centered focus (and that includes GE courses). He admits that he expends a great deal of physical energy in the classroom, which is a natural consequence of this pedagogical commitment: "I make them and myself responsible for every moment in the classroom."

Flexibility as a teacher is his mantra – one he says he learned from colleagues such as Larry Soroka and Richard Robbins.

Vincent references something new he does as an example: "As classes grow in size up to 45 students, I work on getting to know them. I spend time in the beginning of class talking with them, and I learn every student’s name. Learning names has changed the way I teach."

Vincent receives his CTE teacher of the Month mug in October, which is just in time for winter in the North Country.

Contact Information

For more information about the Center for Teaching Excellence, please contact:

Becky Kasper, Ph.D., Director
SUNY Plattsburgh
301 Feinberg Library, Plattsburgh, NY 12901
Phone: (518) 564-3043
Fax: (518) 564-5100