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GRU program to knit topics across classes

Wednesday, March 27, 2013 8:54 PM
Last updated Thursday, March 28, 2013 2:41 AM
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Georgia Regents University associate professor of English Wesley Kisting imagines a college experience where all students share a common thread in their first two years.

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Wesley Kisting, an associate professor at Georgia Regents University, is part of a team developing Knowledge Integrated. The program aims to weave common discussion topics across core classes.  SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
Wesley Kisting, an associate professor at Georgia Regents University, is part of a team developing Knowledge Integrated. The program aims to weave common discussion topics across core classes.

Where mathematics, English, history and chemistry professors discuss the same topics but from different perspectives.

As American higher education evolved to be more specialized within disciplines over the past century, Kisting said, the common knowledge students need to have a basic understanding of the world might have been lost.

To create a more unified focus across majors, Kisting and a team of professors will launch a program in August that weaves common discussions within required freshman and sophomore core classes. Knowledge Integrated, or KNIT, will include 200 freshmen in its pilot year but, if successful, will gradually grow until all underclassmen complete their core classes in this way.

“Finally GRU is going to have something that jump-starts the campus intellectual life,” Kisting said. “We’ve always suffered a bit from being a commuter-heavy campus where students say ‘I go there, I take classes, then I throw my books in my car and go home.’ We have beautiful facilities, but we don’t have a beautiful foundation of knowledge where I can leave the classroom and say ‘I know anybody else I bump into on campus
will be able to intelligently discuss this with me.’ ”

One goal is for students to see long-term value in the content they are required to learn. Kisting said before, some of his students didn’t see the logic in reading a 300-page Shakespeare play for his English class only to take one test and never think about it again.

Perhaps not seeing the relevance, they often lost basic knowledge. In one survey conducted in the development of KNIT, two-thirds of GRU students could not identify the century in which the scientific revolution began or the decade when the Civil War ended.

Kisting said he hopes KNIT can help solve the loss of basic knowledge by working like this:

Each semester will center around one of four themes: Reformation, Enlightenment, the American Experiment or Industrialization.

Students will be blocked into groups of 25, where each group takes three courses together per semester.

About 18 professors in the core curriculum will teach their subject content but will intertwine books and discussions related to the selected historical focus.

KNIT will launch in fall 2013 with the theme of science in the Enlightenment.

English professors might teach Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, a satirical work that suggests poor Irish in the 1700s should sell children born out of wedlock as food to the rich to solve economic and moral dilemmas.

Using the common text, Kisting said a math professor might get creative and require the reading to challenge students to calculate the nutritional value of children. History professors could use the book as a tool to examine the context of children born out of wedlock in that time period.

Debbie Van Tuyll, a professor of communications and KNIT promotions chairwoman, said this model mirrors university structure pre-20th century, when education was more focused on general knowledge.

To develop KNIT, more than 50 professors and faculty collected data over three years on student knowledge and needs. Hundreds of students participated in reviews and gave feedback on what their education was lacking.

They circulated a 46-question multiple choice test that touched on all disciplines, asking students to identify correct grammar or which animal was a mammal.

Of 336 students given the test, only 69 scored at 70 percent or above, Van Tuyll said. They also found students who didn’t see the point in reading full required works when they could skim enough pages just to earn a passing score on a quiz.

“It’s like they were saying ‘I challenge you to make me learn,’ ” Van Tuyll said.

KNIT associate director Craig Albert said he will be promoting KNIT to freshmen during orientation as a program that puts relevance back in learning. When the program expands to the entire university, it will create a needed common ground in education, he said.

“The university system overall has really lost the focus of this idea of what does it mean to be human?” Albert said. “That’s what KNIT really tries to do is establish connections across disciplines through historical eras that establish higher order learning.”

LEARN MORE

Learn more about the Knowledge Integrated program and sign up for it at gruknit.wordpress.com.

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Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 03/28/13 - 06:59 am
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Bull

From the story:

In one survey conducted in the development of KNIT, two-thirds of GRU students could not identify the century in which the scientific revolution began or the decade when the Civil War ended.

I cannot tell you the century in which the scientific revolution began, and I am a scientist.

And there have been hundreds if not thousands of civil wars thoughout history. The pollster should have been more specific.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 03/28/13 - 07:17 am
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LL, haha....that scientific

LL, haha....that scientific revolution thing got me too. I'm glad you said it so I can admit my ignorance, too. The link I'm posting says it started in 1473. Is that right? What a totally bogus survey.

http://www.anselm.edu/homepage/dbanach/timel.htm

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 03/28/13 - 07:35 am
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At least the revolution is over

Thanks for the link, RM. It appears the scientific revolution began in 1473 with the birth of Copernicus; and it ended in 1727 with the death of Newton. I'm glad I knitted this factoid into my short-term memory.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 03/28/13 - 08:59 am
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What the program does is make

What the program does is make easier courses so all can pass them.

Dixieman
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Dixieman 03/28/13 - 09:11 am
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Shakespeare has 300 Points, more than Dixieman

"Kisting said before, some of his students didn’t see the logic in reading a 300-page Shakespeare play for his English class only to take one test and never think about it again."
A 300 page Shakespeare play? Lessee, that would be Henry I, Henry II,...Henry XIX plus Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Hamlet, The Tempest, Measure for Measure and a few more.
This guy is an English professor and thinks Shakespeare's plays were 300 pages long? I know they seemed that long when I had to read them in school, but c'mon. Maybe the AC reporter misquoted him?
Overall grade: Duh.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 03/28/13 - 09:25 am
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Large Print

Thumbs up, Dixieman. Maybe Dr. Kisting uses the

Large Print

editions of Shakespeare’s plays. They might be 300 pages long.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 03/28/13 - 09:41 am
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Bunkum

From the story:

To develop KNIT, more than 50 professors and faculty collected data over three years on student knowledge and needs. Hundreds of students participated in reviews and gave feedback on what their education was lacking. They circulated a 46-question multiple choice test that touched on all disciplines, asking students to identify correct grammar or which animal was a mammal. Of 336 students given the test, only 69 scored at 70 percent or above.

Okay, I learned in college how to do math, and 69 divided by 336 times 100 (rounded to the units place) is 21 percent.

Only 21 percent of ASU students could pass a multidisiplinary general knowledge test. Why am I not suprised? Most of those students are CSRA public school graduates who were not accepted to their first choice of university.

This is one area where Dr. Azziz has it right. He rightly realizes that Grooo will never become a respected research university if it keeps its undergraduate admission standards as low as they are now. The problem is that if they raise their admission standards they will have an immediate drop-off in new students with the corresponding fall-off in revenue.

And they cannot raise their curriculum standards, because the current student body will begin to fail courses right and left.

Azziz has a tough nut to crack on the Summerville campus. Personally, I don't think this KNIT thing is the right answer, but it might be one piece in a 1,000 piece jigsaw. Perhaps the approach should be to raise admission standards AND curriculum standards at the same time BUT gradually. Then after 50 years or so, you might begin to see an undergraduate program that is respected academically.

I definitely appreciate the candor of Dr. Kisting. By sharing the results of the tests and the surveys, he shows the poverty of ASU academics.

my.voice
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my.voice 03/28/13 - 10:02 am
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Brainwashing 101 - AZZIZ is

Brainwashing 101 - AZZIZ is your daddy.

TakeAHike
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TakeAHike 03/28/13 - 02:54 pm
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College is the new middle school

This is material that should have been covered at a general level in grades 6-12!

Fiat_Lux
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Fiat_Lux 03/28/13 - 04:10 pm
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Re: LL@ 10:41

is channeling Dr. Kerry.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 03/28/13 - 05:54 pm
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Kerry

I don't know who Dr. Kerry is; but could he/she possibly be a professor of economics?

W. Kisting
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W. Kisting 03/28/13 - 09:18 pm
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KNIT clarification

Hello, I am the director of KNIT. I would like to clarify the plan's purpose and design.

I am grateful to The Augusta Chronicle for helping us to spread awareness about the KNIT program. However, the article mistakenly conflates KNIT's goals with the university's (separate) effort to collect data on our students’ knowledge. Although I had access to that data, I was not involved in its collection and it did not play a major role in KNIT's design. The real inspiration for KNIT came from hundreds of hours of candid discussions with students and faculty, as well as a thorough review of problems and best practices in higher education nationwide.

KNIT is not intended to resolve any specific knowledge deficiency, though it will make students more knowledgeable. Its chief aim is to restore students' desire to learn and the beneficial experience of cooperative learning that a university campus is meant to provide. The vital, motivational experience of cooperative learning has virtually disappeared from the modern university for reasons I describe on the KNIT blog: http://gruknit.wordpress.com/common/

KNIT is designed to encourage a growing faculty consensus about important areas of knowledge that should be central to all learning at GRU. That consensus will be used, in turn, to create more frequent connections between the many different courses our students take. Technically, it isn't important what knowledge we choose to emphasize--only that some knowledge receive frequent, consistent attention so that all of our students acquire a strong foundation of shared knowledge. A consistent, shared foundation means that more of what students learn in one classroom can be carried over to the next classroom, and the next. For professors, this means better clarity about what students can reasonably be expected to know at each level (i.e., higher standards). For students, it means greater confidence that the knowledge they’re learning matters to others (not just the course professor who assigned it) and thus, has serious value as a means to participate more fully in the campus community and its intellectual life.

If we create a climate in which important topics and texts surface repeatedly, in many different classrooms, students will also get to see that "experts" frequently disagree. And they will understand better what it means to think like a historian versus a biologist, a psychologist, a political scientist, etc. Right now, the materials we assign in different courses rarely overlap, let alone integrate productively. That leaves students hard pressed to understand how the breadth and depth of a liberal arts education is supposed to benefit them, or what value they should derive from assembling on a campus at all. KNIT will remedy that by providing repeated, multi-disciplinary exposure to a focused topic--the kind of well-integrated education that actually demonstrates and instills the nuances of substantial knowledge and responsible thinking. The point isn't to test them on this knowledge later for purposes of remediation (far too many school curriculums have been ruined by a "teach to the test" mentality). The point is to infuse a useful knowledge set into the entire curriculum, to embed it into everything we teach so that it resurfaces again and again, and thus, begins to foster a more cohesive and stimulating undergraduate community.

I invite anyone interested in joining the program to contact me through the blog at www.gruknit.wordpress.com or to come meet with me in person.

Finally, for the record, I didn't say Shakespeare wrote a 300-page play. But we threw so much information at Ms. McManus during the interview that we can certainly forgive a few inaccuracies.

Best,

Wesley Kisting
KNIT Director
Georgia Regents University

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