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Liberal Education Learning Goals

The list below is meant to provide general information around current thinking about learning goals for liberal education. It is organized by broadly conceived goal categories, each of which reflects an imputed consensus across recent discussions and projects around student learning outcomes. Each goal category includes a reference to four contributing contexts: an initial discussion in this Curriculum Committee, the Cornell University-wide Learning Outcomes, the AAC&U VALUES project, and the Lumina Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP).

Critical Thinking

Curriculum Committee general discussion:

Cornell University-wide learning goals:

Apply analytical and critical thought to a body of knowledge; evaluate arguments; identify relevant assumptions or implications. Formulate coherent arguments, exhibiting alertness to the possibility that something could be done better than it has been done before, and that critical engagement with a problem to be solved may lead to a creative solution.

AAC&U VALUE Rubrics:

Critical Thinking--Definition

Critical thinking is a habit of mind characterized by the comprehensive exploration of issues, ideas, artifacts, and events before accepting or formulating an opinion or conclusion.

Integrative and synthetic thinking

Curriculum Committee general discussion

AAC&U VALUE Rubrics:

Integrative Learning--Definition

Integrative learning is an understanding and a disposition that a student builds across the curriculum and co-curriculum, from making simple connections among ideas and experiences to synthesizing and transferring learning to new, complex situations within and beyond the campus.

DQP:

Broad and Integrative Knowledge

DQP invites students to integrate their broad learning by exploring, connecting and applying concepts and methods across multiple fields of study to complex questions — in the student’s areas of specialization, in work or other field-based settings and in the wider society. While many institutions of higher education and most state requirements relegate general knowledge to the first two years of undergraduate work and present it in isolated blocks, the DQP takes the position that broad and integrative knowledge, at all degree levels, should build larger, cumulative contexts for students’ specialized and applied learning and for their engagement with civic, intercultural, global and scientific issues throughout their academic careers and beyond.

Ethical values

Curriculum Committee general discussion

Cornell: University-wide learning goals:

Embrace moral and ethical values in conducting their lives; make judgments about the quality and value of ideas, theories, and information; promote honesty, trust, fairness, respect, and responsibility; formulate a position or argument about an ethical issue from multiple perspectives; use ethical practices in all work.

AAC&U VALUE Rubrics:

Ethical Reasoning--Definition

Ethical Reasoning is reasoning about right and wrong human conduct. It requires students to be able to assess their own ethical values and the social context of problems, recognize ethical issues in a variety of settings, think about how different ethical perspectives might be applied to ethical dilemmas and consider the ramifications of alternative actions. Students’ ethical self identity evolves as they practice ethical decision-making skills and learn how to describe and analyze positions on ethical issues.

DQP:

Ethical reasoning

Analytic reasoning, the use of information resources, communication, and diverse perspectives should be brought to bear on situations, both clear and indeterminate, where tensions and conflicts, disparities and harms emerge, and where a particular set of intellectual skills is necessary to identify, elaborate and, if possible, resolve these cases. Ethical reasoning thus refers to the judicious and self-reflective application of ethical principles and codes of conduct resident in cultures, professions, occupations, economic behavior and social relationships to making decisions and taking action.

Intercultural knowledge/"Multicultural competency"

Curriculum Committee general discussion

Cornell: University-wide learning goals:

Demonstrate knowledge and awareness of different cultural practices, values, beliefs, and worldviews, and an understanding of their own cultural perspective; communicate effectively and respectfully with individuals from different backgrounds and across a multicultural society; demonstrate curiosity, flexibility, adaptability, and tolerance for ambiguity; investigate themselves and others as cultural beings, understanding the implied values and assumptions that underlie cultural norms and traditions.

AAC&U VALUE Rubrics:

Intercultural Knowledge--Definition

Intercultural Knowledge and Competence is "a set of cognitive, affective, and behavioral skills and characteristics that support effective and appropriate interaction in a variety of cultural contexts.”

DQP:

Engaging diverse perspectives

Every student should develop the intellectual flexibility and broad knowledge that enables perception of the world through the eyes of others, i.e., from the perspectives of diverse cultures, personalities, places, times and technologies. This proficiency is essential to intellectual development and to both Applied and Collaborative Learning and Civic and Global Learning.

Civic awareness/engagement

Curriculum Committee general discussion

Cornell University-wide Learning Goals:

Engage in their communities, demonstrating responsibility to a larger community or public; connect positively with and in communities of various sizes and composition through and outside the classroom; participate in community engagement or civic action to benefit the public good.

AAC&U VALUE Rubrics:

Civic Engagement--Definition

Civic engagement is "working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes." . . . In addition, civic engagement encompasses actions wherein individuals participate in activities of personal and public concern that are both individually life enriching and socially beneficial to the community.

DQP:

Civic and Global Learning

Preparation for responsible participation in a democratic society, in both global and domestic settings, including cognitive activities (describing, examining, elucidating, justifying) that are within the direct purview of institutions of higher education, as well as evidence of civic activities and learning beyond collegiate settings, reflecting the need for analytic inquiry and engagement with diverse perspectives. 

Quantitative Reasoning

Curriculum Committee general discussion

Cornell University-wide learning goals:

Demonstrate scientific and quantitative reasoning by understanding cause and effect relationships; defining problems; using symbolic thought; applying scientific principles, and solving problems with no single correct answer.

AAC&U VALUE Rubrics:

Definition

Quantitative Literacy (QL) – also known as Numeracy or Quantitative Reasoning (QR) – is a "habit of mind," competency, and comfort in working with numerical data. Individuals with strong QL skills possess the ability to reason and solve quantitative problems from a wide array of authentic contexts and everyday life situations. They understand and can create sophisticated arguments supported by quantitative evidence and they can clearly communicate those arguments in a variety of formats (using words, tables, graphs, mathematical equations, etc., as appropriate).

DQP:

Quantitative fluency

Quantitative expressions and the issues they raise inform many tasks. In addition to essential arithmetic skills, the use of visualization, symbolic translation and algorithms has become critically important.

Scientific literacy

Curriculum Committee general discussion

Cornell University-wide learning goals:

Demonstrate scientific and quantitative reasoning by understanding cause and effect relationships; defining problems; using symbolic thought; applying scientific principles, and solving problems with no single correct answer.

Persuasive expression

The ability to express ideas clearly and persuasively in writing and other relevant modes.

Curriculum Committee general discussion

Cornell University-wide Learning Goals:

  • ideas clearly and persuasively orally and in writing; work, communicate, and engage effectively with others using media as appropriate; be able to use these skills to support consensus-building, collaboration, teamwork, and facilitating outcomes.

AAC&U VALUE Rubrics:

Definition

Written communication is the development and expression of ideas in writing. Written communication involves learning to work in many genres and styles. It can involve working with many different writing technologies, and mixing texts, data, and images. Written communication abilities develop through iterative experiences across the curriculum.

DQP:

Communicative fluency

The use of messages to achieve shared understanding of meaning depends on effective use of language, intentional engagement of audience, cogent and coherent iteration and negotiation with others, and skillful translation across multiple expressive modes and formulations, including digital strategies and platforms.

Discovery

Engagement with new, emerging objects of study—e.g. hyper-objects (i.e. climate change, Styrofoam), cross-disciplinary knowledge.

Curriculum Committee general discussion

Cornell University-wide learning goals:

Engage in the process of discovery or creation; demonstrate the ability to work productively, creatively, and artfully in a laboratory setting, studio, library, or field environment.

Selected Readings

The links below go to the Cornell Library digital materials.