Opinion: General studies classes need improvement to boost student learning

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Pratibha Gautam

Staff Writer

Any student setting out to earn an undergraduate degree knows what it is like to take general studies classes. These classes are usually centered around topics outside one’s major and aim to broaden the student’s scope of learning. In order to graduate from Troy, a student must earn at least 60 credits in general studies.

These credits have to be spread out among sciences, humanities, fine arts and other fields of study. The goal is for students to attain a general knowledge about all of these subjects and not be limited to ideas within their own major.

While some students enjoy learning things about other fields, many do not prefer spending time and energy for a class not related to their major. Especially if it is a field the student finds difficult, they are less likely to invest and, hence, learn from the course.

Students may even feel anxious or frustrated about having to take these classes. This is especially true if they do not see a way in which the subject matter they are learning can apply to their lives.

This can lead to poor performance in survey level courses, and students look for classes that require the least effort and still meet the required criteria. Looking for an “easy A” is a dangerous trend. In doing so, students are losing valuable time, energy and money which could have been used for something productive.

Instructors also face difficulties with general studies classes. Since some of their students plan to stay in the field and others do not, they might not always know how to present the subject matter. This gives rise to a big difference in different classes for the same subject. Classes can range from an intense course load to the bare minimum. Of course, students will look for the least work and perpetuate the trend of “easy A” classes.

In this hunt for easy means to an end, students and instructors can lose sight of the objective of general studies classes, providing students with a basic idea of the subject matter and the skill to be well rounded individuals.

“I try to present to my students the idea that we weren’t just discovered under a cabbage leaf,” says Michael Orlofsky, a professor in the English department. According to Orlofsky, a faculty member should try to persuade students they are the next generation of scholars, and it is their responsibility to carry on the torch of civilization.

Once students stop seeing these classes as a burden, they will start learning from them.

“With Troy, you have a lot of options, so you don’t necessarily have to be stuck with a class you don’t enjoy,” said Clay Graham, a senior Psychology major from Moulton. For every general requirement, there are plenty of course options that students can select from, so students can pick courses they find most interesting.

“Be informed and do your research; look for a professor whose style you like,” says Gina Girgis, a junior Computer Science and Mathematics major from Alexandria, Egypt. Most professors are open to questions about the subject matter, teaching methods and course load.

If someone already has a good command over the subject, they can also take tests such as CLEP and receive credit to fill a course requirement. Troy administers CLEP tests at Eldridge Hall, and students can register for a CLEP test at clep.collegeboard.org.

The task for making general classes effective can be tricky for professors. However, it is not impossible. In fact, many students have fond memories of some of their general studies classes.

According to Girgis, instructors need to highlight the important aspects of the topics, and its real-world implications.

“Make it personal,” she said.

“Often, teachers impact their students the most when they show their own passion for the subject matter.”

Orlofsky said teachers must find a midpoint to challenge the prepared students and also encourage the less prepared ones.

“You don’t want to find the lowest common denominator because that might alienate the students who really want a challenge,” he said.

According to Thomas Reiner, an assistant professor of Psychology at Troy University, it is important for professors to try to keep the classes interesting and keep students involved in the subject matter.

As classes get larger, however, the task of engaging students becomes more challenging.

“You have to tailor what you’re doing to your audience, ” said Reiner.

It takes effort from both parties to make general studies classes. The first step for both students and professors is to not see this as a burden but as an opportunity to have memorable learning experiences.

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