A Pragmatic Approach to Declining Enrollments: Reinventing the General Education Course

Meghan Murphy-Lee, University of Arizona

The foundation of many Slavic departments in the United States to date has been the small language and literature class. Owing to the decline in enrollments in these core courses, some of these departments are now being threatened with extinction. One possible solution to the challenges of attracting new students and remaining afloat in such an environment is the general education course.

While these large courses appear on the surface to be similar to the mass lectures of bygone days, the new student demands an updated and radically changed course. Modern university students are much more technologically literate, information-savvy and accustomed to multi-tasking. Slavic departments must do better at competing for the attention of these undergraduates by offering general education courses which incorporate multimedia presentations and connect the often ponderous, obtuse, ancient, and voluminous subject matter to current events. This will not only give the department the enrollment it needs for survival, but also is a method by which to expose many undergraduates to Slavic and to attract recruits into the more traditional courses in language and literature.

Creating a course that appeals to these new students is not easy. One way that has been tried at a large state university is to use multiple technological applications as part of the lecture. Students are able to access PowerPoint presentations of lectures, to chat with their fellow students about assignments, to ask questions during virtual office hours, and form study groups while never leaving their dorm rooms. The student of today is not satisfied with a seventy-five minute lecture; she prefers to participate in the lecture, to watch film and hear music clips, and to see how the subject pertains to her. Furthermore, she also likes instant feedback on her progress in the course and is often unwilling to wait weeks for traditional assignments to be graded.
In this presentation, I will discuss the characteristics of the students of today, how to better teach her using current education technology and how the resulting shift in course structure can help struggling Slavic departments. Although this presentation is based on empirical research on the capabilities and interests of contemporary students, it is nevertheless intended to be more directed towards classroom practice and to offer suggestions as to how best to attract and retain the interest of the target students.

Kilgore, Susan. “Bridges from Content Experts to Novice Learners in 21st Century Classrooms”. Rocky Mountain Review 58.2 (May 2004),43-70.

Nelson, Linda R. (2003) Teaching At Its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructor Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Co., 2003.