Fundamental Literacies | Essential Characteristics
Essential Characteristics of Writing Courses
The ability to write clearly and correctly is arguably the most important academic skill an individual can acquire. University instruction in composition should encompass more than this, though. It should include development of the ability to analyze written texts from a variety of disciplines and to construct clear and convincing written arguments. We propose as part of the general education curriculum the demonstration of competence in written communication, by successful completion of a course that meets the following criteria:
- includes practice in the detailed interpretation of complex academic texts from several disciplines
- requires skill in the formulation and defense of an original interpretive thesis
- includes extensive practice in the techniques of argumentative writing
- requires extensive experience with manuscript revision
- includes practice in the fundamental skills of research writing
As a result of taking a General Education Written Communication course, students will be able to…
- Develop a thesis that establishes a position in relation to sources, goes beyond common knowledge, can be debated, and provides control, direction, and purpose to the paper;
- Incorporate concrete examples in most body paragraphs to develop the thesis;
- Incorporate an organizational structure that presents paragraphs in a meaningful progression;
- Demonstrate control over grammar errors while maintaining the sentence-level flexibility to clearly articulate ideas;
- Demonstrate sustained engagement with evidence (i.e. quotations) using appropriate citation form.
- Engage in writing as a social process that includes multiple drafts, collaboration and reflection.
Reasoning, like writing, is a fundamental skill. The ability to analyze an argument and recognize its strengths and weaknesses is a hallmark of an educated person. This ability develops fully through repeated practice in a wide variety of courses throughout a student’s academic career. It is more effectively developed, however, when students receive explicit, systematic instruction in critical thinking early in their college experience. For this reason, Critical Thinking courses should be designed primarily, if not exclusively, as 100– and 200–level courses requiring no prerequisites.
Although courses that fulfill the general education requirement for Critical Thinking may be taught in a variety of disciplines under various course numbers, each course must provide general—not narrow or specialized—training in widely applicable reasoning skills. As much as possible, course assignments should demonstrate the cross-disciplinary and ordinary applicability of critical thinking skills. In particular, such a course must:
- provide instruction in identifying and differentiating questions, problems, and arguments
- teach students how to evaluate the appropriateness of various methods of reasoning and verification
- teach students how to identify and assess stated and unstated assumptions, and critically compare different points of view
- introduce techniques for evaluating the quality of evidence and reasoning
- require students to formulate questions and problems, construct and develop cogent arguments, and articulate reasoned judgments
As a result of taking a General Education Critical Thinking course, students will be able to…
1. Identify reasons that support a claim
2. Construct arguments for and against a claim
3. Use widely accepted standards for evaluating the quality of evidence and reasoning
Core Skills to Be Covered
Specifically, the core content of the Critical Thinking course would include the following skills:
- How to express ideas clearly and precisely, and to identify and clarify vagueness and ambiguity that impedes effective reasoning
- How to identify an argument, i.e., a set of statements in which evidence or reasons are given to support a claim, and to distinguish between arguing for a claim and merely expressing or articulating it
- How to determine if an argument is complete, and to articulate any hidden assumptions made by those arguments that are incomplete
- How to analyze an argument in terms of its structure, and to recognize similar structures and patterns in arguments about completely different subjects
- How to recognize the most common mistaken reasoning patterns (typically referred to as “informal fallacies” in Critical Thinking textbooks), such as ad hominem attacks, and the fallacies of the straw man, red herring, slippery slope, etc.
- How to assess both (a) when reasons, if true, would support a claim, and (b) when evidence or reasons are cogent or credible (that is, how to tell when information is reliable or trustworthy, when to believe or to be skeptical about sources of information, etc.)
- How to distinguish between different basic categories of reasoning (inductive and deductive), and to apply the general rules that determine good reasoning for the various types of arguments within these categories, in a manner useful to a wide range of disciplines and contexts.
Written texts offer a permanence and opportunity for analysis that make them especially valuable. However, most communication takes place orally; and it is important to develop skill both in formal oral presentations and in the ability to recognize conventions of oral communication and the ways in which oral communication can be enhanced an expanded by non-verbal means. As part of the general education curriculum the demonstration of competence in oral communication will be either by direct demonstration in a placement examination or by successful completion of a course that meets the following criteria:
- provides training in thought processes necessary to organize speech content
- requires students to analyze components of effective delivery and language imparts understanding of ways in which oral communication is amplified or inhibited by non-verbal forms of communication
- requires students to demonstrate ability to communicate information and ideas effectively to groups or in one-on-one conversation
Source: Adapted from Report and Recommendations, IUSB Task Force on General Education (March 2003).
After taking a General Education Oral Communication class, students will be able to…
- Create messages appropriate for the intended audience(s);
- Use appropriate supporting materials to communicate credibility and explain complex concepts to audiences;
- Organize messages to support a purpose, following an organizational pattern;
- Demonstrate an understanding of ethics and authenticity in communication with others.
Mathematics has long been a standard component of the university curriculum. Aside from the obvious practical utility of some mathematical topics, the study of mathematics can develop skill in the application of logic and, in some cases, critical thinking skills. We recommend as part of the general education curriculum a demonstration of competence in mathematical reasoning by successful completion of a course that meets the following criteria:
- includes instruction in mathematical concepts
- requires the application of mathematical concepts to practical problems
- requires students to develop and present quantitative arguments
As a result of taking a General Education Quantitative Reasoning course, students will be able to…
1. Explain information presented in mathematical forms (e.g. equations, graphs, diagrams, tables, words)
2. Convert relevant information into various mathematical forms (e.g. equations, graphs, diagrams, tables, words)
3. Perform mathematical calculations
4. Communicate quantitative evidence in support of an argument for various purposes and audiences (including general audiences)
Thanks to the explosive growth of electronic means of communication and data storage, an individual’s access to information is now practically unlimited. It is imperative that today’s university graduate develop skills in finding and evaluating information, both in print and in electronic form. As part of the general education curriculum a demonstration of competence in modern information gathering and evaluation will be by successful completion of a course that meets the following criteria:
- provides the student with an understanding of the organization of knowledge and information, including terminology and types of resources available.
- teaches students how to construct a research question and form a research strategy, including the selection of appropriate research tools.
- provides the student with the theory, skills and technique required to be an effective online database searcher.
- applies knowledge gained about types of resources, search strategy and the organization of information to the critical evaluation and use of materials.
- introduces students to issues regarding the ethical and legal use of information.
- encourages students to develop research skills and habits that will contribute to their success as students and future professionals.
Source:Adapted from Report and Recommendations, IUSB Task Force on General Education (March 2003)
Courses that fulfill the General Education Computer Literacy requirement focus primarily on aspects of technology. Technology is ubiquitous and integrated into every discipline and career. Using technology is a life skill that is critical to navigate increasingly technological lives and careers.
As a result of taking a General Education Computer Literacy course, students will be able to*…:
1. Using computational thinking, createbasic steps for solving problems
2. Identify basic computational tools (e.g. hardware, software) in various domains
3. Levels will increase based on sophistication and complexity of the description
4. Use productivity software for data analysis, presentation, and reporting
5. Identify examples of interactions among technology, humans, and society
*These student learning outcomes and associated rubric are being piloted fall 2020.
Visual literacy is about the interpretation of visual media, its role in society, and how visual images can be used to convey messages and meaning. Visual literacy courses are primarily about analyzing or producing visual media and their roles in the presentation of ideas and/or concepts. Courses in visual literacy will include cultural, historical, and social contexts as they relate to visual artifacts. The course should promote an understanding of visual media as a means of understanding the world.
As a result of taking a General Education Visual Literacy course, students will be able to*…
1. Critically analyze or produce visual media and their roles in the presentation of ideas and/or concepts (such as photographs, sculpture, video, film, new media, presentations, or papers)
2. Identify cultural, historical, and social contexts pertinent to the visual artifact
3. Identifyappropriate visual literacy vocabulary/terminology as it relates to course media
*These student learning outcomes and associated rubric are being piloted fall 2020
Guidelines for Developing a Visual Literacy Course
Visual Literacy has been recognized within a growing number of academic disciplines as a necessary component of a comprehensive education. Of the seven literacies included in the IUSB General Education plan, “Visual Literacy” connotes the greatest variety of interpretations. A review of relevant terms is therefore useful here.
- Visual Culture is the field of study devoted to visual images and messages. It is “a community of cultural and social practices that communicates meaning via mediums like television, advertising, fashion, dance, architecture, scientific imagery, news, photography, painting, language, and so forth.”
- Visual Literacy is the ability to understand meaning in a visual message/image. It becomes the student’s “ability to read, perceive, understand, create/produce, use, and appreciate visual images in a variety of settings.”
- Visual Communication refers to the techniques used to create these messages. More specifically, it is “the deliberate arrangement of visual images, with or without text, using the principles and elements of graphic design in order to communicate an intended, or unintended, message.”
- Visual Media focuses on the media that transmit visual messages, including (but is not limited to) television, film, books, newspapers, advertising, dance, architecture, songs, computer programs (e.g., PowerPoint, Photoshop, etc.), and so forth.