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email iconsend this article to a friend A Reinvented Online General Education Program

By Marty Nemko would be a highly interactive general education program taught on video by some of the world's finest instructors. The courses' exams would tap crucial understandings and skills such as critical thinking yet would be multiple-choice so the entire program can be completed without the college or university providing any faculty. would be self-contained, turnkey., would solve critical problems faced by many institutions of higher education.

-- Many institutions wish they could admit more freshmen but there's no room. would allow colleges to admit as many students as it wished AND provide a high-quality program. This will help address the additional enrollment pressures that will accrue, for example, because President Obama is calling for nearly everyone to have some college education. The cost to a college of would be low enough that at most institutions, regular student tuition would cover its cost.

-- Students too often approach G.E. courses thinking, "I need to get my G.E.'s out of the way."'s immersive-interaction-rich courses taught by world-class transformative instructors would be motivating yet of appropriate rigor for average college students.

-- Many faculty don't enjoy teaching general education courses because the content is basic and/or because many students are insufficiently prepared or motivated to succeed in those courses. would free your faculty to teach the more advanced courses they prefer and/or to devote more time to their research and service.

Central to each course would be these features:

  • The core screening criterion for course content: Is that content central to the life well-led and unlikely to be adequately acquired outside of college? Each course's primary focus would be to maximize the probability that the students will incorporate each course's core skills and knowledge into the way they function day-in- and day out, professionally and personally.
  • Each course's instructor(s) would be on video, enabling every student, even if millions, from all across the globe, to receive a world-class instructor.
  • The instructors, drawn from within and outside academia, would be selected on demonstrated ability to enable students to fully understand and use complicated but important concepts, motivate students to love learning, and, most important, be transformational: help students grow in important ways beyond learning the course material. I would reach out to selected state and national teachers and professors of the year but not be restricted to them.
  • Courses would make heavy use of of true interactivity (role play, debate, simulation, reflecting on rhetorical questions) plus microlectures with options to click on links to explanatory text, video, etc. Each instructor would develop the course in collaboration with an expert in creating courses on Moodle or other top online course platform.
  • There would be student-to-student online interaction: discussions about microlectures, group immersive projects, forums to address problems, etc.
  • Iris or fingerprint recognition technology, questions embedded in course to verify participation, and open-book exams would reduce cheating to levels below that in traditional instruction.
  • More than 70 semester credits worth of courses are listed here. Each institution could decide how much choice to allow students in selecting the courses that would meet that institution's general education requirement.


THE LIFE WELL LED (3 semester credits): Philosophies of living.


PRODUCTIVITY (3 credits) Study/learning skills, time management, stress management gaining motivation.


Note: I provide more detail for this course for illustrative purposes.)

Structure: Students watch 50 ever more complicated arguments in text, speeches and debates (drawn heavily from You Tube) and make moment-to-moment judgments of the quality of argumentation and then compare them against the instructor's moment-by-moment judgments. 30-second to five-minute microlectures will be inserted between video clips to highlight a critical thinking principle embedded in one of the videos. Example: how to avoid getting seduced by the presenter's style rather than the substance.

Categories from which clips will be drawn:


Workplace: e.g., sexism, whether to market a new product, an approach to fundraising, salary negotiation.

Debates on core societal problems: world poverty, global terrorism, improving the U.S. educational system, the federal deficit, our election system, addressing the socioeconomic achievement gap, improving the U.S. economy in an era of China's and India's ascendance, societal lack of ethics, diversity issues.

Analyzing policy arguments: e.g., climate change, the racial achievement/income gap

Analyzing political arguments: e.g., liberal versus conservative

Examinations; Students will take exams assessing their critical thinking skills. Sample item: Here are four one-paragraph arguments. Put them in order of strength of argument.

PROFESSIONAL COMMUNICATION (3 credits) (For Module I, I provide a sample of what a lesson might look like)

Module I: Keys to effective professional communication (This is the section on general communication skills. The conflict-prevention and conflict resolution sections are later.)

A. Show video of an effective communication between an employee and boss. Instead of a video of others, you may wish to role-play both sides of the communication.

B. Explain that a key to those people's effectiveness were the strength and clarity of the reasoning. Then teach students a technique that would quickly help them present more clearly and concisely: for example, you might have them pretend they have 60 seconds to explain something of life-or-death importance to a sixth grader) Have them practice the technique with their webcam. Have each student rate himself and video themselves again as much as s/he wants to--at least twice in order to get credit for completing that submodule.

C. Explain that the other key to communication effectiveness is style. Then teach them a technique or two that would quickly improve their style. For example, "Pretend you're not yourself but an actor you've seen on TV or in a movie who has just the right dynamism, tone quality, presence, etc. Imitate that person

Use the same model (steps A, B, and C), but this time starting with a video of (or you role playing both sides of) an effective communication between two peers. At your discretion, you might want to repeat this process with other examples: perhaps employee and customer, or employee and vendor.

Students then must pass a five-to-ten-item exam you'd create before going on to the next module. While, for logistical reasons, it must be multiple-choice, it is critical that those items go well beyond testing facts. For example, a test item on this module's exam might consist of four five-second videos of you making a point. The student must rank-order them in order of effectiveness.

Module II: Conflict prevention
Module III: Conflict resolution
Module IV: Managing and leading people
Module V: Running a meeting
Module VI: Negotiation
Module VII: Writing a report
Module VIII: Writing an email
Module IX: Public speaking.

READING COMPREHENSION (bachelor's level) (3 credits)
Realistic fiction
Fantasy fiction
Narrative non-fiction (e.g., biographies, current events)
How-to non-fiction
Technical material (including owner's manuals and help screens)

WRITING (Bachelor's level) (3 credits)

The persuasive essay

Expository writing


Writing for new media: blogs, Twitter, Facebook
The art of letter writing

(Incorporating risk-reward/probabilistic thinking in daily life.)

Communicating with friends.
Communicating with a romantic partner
Communicating with your family
Cross-cultural communication


The art and science of identifying unmet needs that could become successful businesses

How to start a lemonade stand
How to turn a lemonade stand into Joy Juice, Inc. (NASDAQ: joyj)

Social entrepreneurship

ETHICS (3 credits:)
Selfish and altruistic reasons why ethical behavior is core.
10 common, tempting ethical decisions
10 common, difficult ethical dilemmas

Email, texting
Using Windows, Mac, & iPhone operating systems
Word processing
File management
Digital audio (e.g., mp3)
Digital video (still cameras, camcorders)

Practical micro and macro economics
Developing a philosophy of spending versus saving
Savings: banks, bonds, stocks, mutual funds, etfs, real estate, tangible assets.
Deciding when you should borrow and how.
Your housing: Rent? Buy? How?
Your transportation: Car? Truck? Bicycle? Mass Transit? How to buy?
Your education: Another degree? How to choose?
Your food: Shopping wisely
Your clothing: Shopping wisely.
Time-effectively obtaining a good deal on smaller purchases
Wise charitable giving
Protecting yourself against scams


Students are the decisionmaker in simulations of, for example, whether the U.S.should have invaded Iraq, entered World War II, responded to the Cuban missile crisis, etc. Students debate other students.





(including YouTube video)



Thinking scientifically in daily life. (College-level application of the scientific method, risk-reward analysis, etc.)

Students are the decisionmaker in simulations of key situations: what role if any should nuclear energy play

Should the U.S. sign the Kyoto Protocol

Is it worth funding proposal X for searching for a cure for sudden heart attack?

Should research that would use gene therapy to increase intelligence be illegal? Government funded?

CITIZENSHIP (3 credits)
What is the good citizen?
Comparing the major political philosophies: liberal, conservative, socialist, libertarian.
Economics for citizens: microeconomics, macroeconomics.

How government works.

Finding a compatible service opportunity

HEALTH (2 credits)
Diet. and finding the lifetime discipline
Exercise,.and finding the lifetime discipline
Addictive drugs: alcohol, drugs, cigarettes
Minimizing and addressing anxiety, depression.
Visiting your physician: preparing, making the most of the appointment.


Food preparation
Wise consumer purchasing


LANDING A JOB (2 credits)


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