Fundamental Literacies | Essential Characteristics
Essential Characteristics of Writing Courses
Courses in Writing give students the ability to write clearly and correctly. Instruction in writing at the university level should do more than this, however. It should develop the ability to analyze written texts from a variety of disciplines and to construct clear and convincing written arguments. It should require skill in the formulation and defense of an original interpretive thesis, and include extensive practice in the techniques of argumentative writing. Finally, it should require repeated draft revisions, and include 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.
Critical thinking involves logical reasoning, analysis, and argumentation. Critical thinking courses focus primarily on teaching reasoning skills such as identifying and differentiating claims, questions, problems, and arguments; analyzing the structure of arguments, identifying any unstated assumptions they make, and assessing their strengths and weaknesses; critically comparing different points of view; and constructing cogent arguments and reasoned judgments, using widely accepted standards and techniques for evaluating the quality of evidence and reasoning in each case.
As a result of taking a General Education Critical Thinking course, students will be able to…
- Identify reasons that support a claim
- Construct arguments for and against a claim
- 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.
Courses in Oral Communication focus on ways in which people verbally communicate both formally and informally. These courses are integral for students 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 and expanded by non-verbal means.
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.
Courses in Quantitative Reasoning include applications of mathematical concepts to practical, real-world problems that allow for students to reason and communicate in various mathematical forms. These courses allow for students to further their critical thinking and reasoning skills using quantitative data and mathematical concepts.
As a result of taking a General Education Quantitative Reasoning course, students will be able to…
- Explain information presented in mathematical forms (e.g. equations, graphs, diagrams, tables, words)
- Convert relevant information into various mathematical forms (e.g. equations, graphs, diagrams, tables, words)
- Perform mathematical calculations
- Communicate quantitative evidence in support of an argument for various purposes and audiences (including general audiences)
Information Literacy courses are primarily about helping students develop skills in finding and evaluating information, both in print and in electronic form. Competence in modern information gathering and evaluation of information with an aim to support students’ ability to organize knowledge and information, develop research skills, and critically evaluate and use valid, reliable materials are central to these courses.
By taking a General Education class tagged for Information Literacy, students will be able to:
- Search for research materials using appropriate search tools
- Search for research materials using effective search strategies
- Retrieve sources that are appropriate for the topic and for use in academic research
- Evaluate sources based on standard criteria and information need
- Use sources ethically by documenting correctly
- Reflect on the research process and selected sources
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…
- Using computational thinking, createbasic steps for solving problems
- Identify basic computational tools (e.g. hardware, software) in various domains
- Levels will increase based on sophistication and complexity of the description
- Use productivity software for data analysis, presentation, and reporting
- Identify examples of interactions among technology, humans, and society
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…
- 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)
- Identify cultural, historical, and social contexts pertinent to the visual artifact
- Identify appropriate visual literacy vocabulary/terminology as it relates to course media
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.