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Fudan General Education 2.0___

---General education reform at Fudan University was introduced in 2005. General education practice at Fudan before 2014 was called “General Education 1.0”. In 2014, the concept of “General Education 2.0” was introduced. In the following post, the features and achievements of Fudan University’s general education program are outlined, with an eye to both its past tradition and its future aspirations.

General Education at Fudan: Upgrading from Version 1.0 to Version 2.0

The work of reforming general education during the period from 2005 to 2014 (Version 1.0) took place in four phases.

First, in 2005, the concept of “general education” was articulated. This was an entirely new development. Since the 1980s, Fudan University had carried out several education experiments, including optional general education courses, general courses in humanities and science for special interdisciplinary programs, experimental class for humanities or for science, in addition to others. The most important problem to be solved in 2005 was how to clearly define the institutional role “general education” would play in Fudan’s education. It was indeed a hard question to solve. The adjustment of colleges and departments in 1952 institutionalized specialization among different kinds of universities in China. In this historical context, it became imperative to concentrate first and foremost on clarifying and establishing the role of general education in the framework of modern universities. On top of designing the general education curriculum and its supporting system, we organized the “Great Debate on General Education,” a university-wide discussion on the nature and purposes of general education in order that the faculty understand and support the overall idea and the reforms. In the phase of Version 1.0, we put more emphasis on explaining what general education is and why we should do it.

Second, the objectives of general education at Fudan were clarified. The “Great Debate,” in which we discussed why we should have general education at all, was in a certain way also how we clarified our objectives. Fudan proposed the general goal of “cultivating talents with a humanistic orientation, scientific spirit, professional quality, and international perspectives”. At that time, we also set up separate objectives for each of the six modules in the core curriculum. These modules were cultural tradition, critical thinking, dialogues between civilizations, scientific spirit, life and ecology, and aesthetic experience. While the objectives identified in Version 1.0 remained somewhat of a broad sketch, in Version 2.0, special emphasis was put on individual syllabi, so that the underlying ideas and objectives could be better implemented.

Third, there was a consideration of which of several different modes of general education curriculum to implement. Should we select a core curriculum with a prescribed set of courses, or rather one with distribution requirements to ensure educational breadth? When we have a course in a certain field, should we focus on core texts of that field or provide an introduction to it? Based on past experiments and lessons learned, we opted for distribution requirements. Students are required to take one course in each of the modules. With regard to the teaching content, we put more emphasis on reading the core texts. In fact, all the first three modules of the core curriculum now are focusing on reading classical texts, helping students approach the great books in human history.

The fourth step was to ensure that we not only designed courses in accordance with our vision of what the core curriculum should be, but also to offer enough courses and sections each semester in order to guarantee that every student at Fudan have access. By the end of developing Version 1.0 of our core curriculum, we succeeded in reaching the desired coverage of courses and sections, but looking ahead realized we still had more to do to evaluate each course, enhance quality across the core offerings, and discontinue courses that might be deemed unsuccessful.

In sum, Version 1.0 had taken the following four steps: 1) articulation of our vision of general education, 2) clarification of our objectives, 3) selection of the modes the core curriculum at Fudan would take, and 4) evaluation of the ratio of core courses to the student population.

Improvements of Version 2.0

Implementation of Version 2.0 has been a process of fine-tuning the core curriculum. The problem we are facing now is not the “what” or “why” but “how.” It has been 3 years since Fudan University declared the idea of “General Education 2.0”. But still there is a long way to go.

The Six Standards of Fudan “General Education 2.0.”

While the phase of curriculum reform associated with Version 1.0 was about conceptualizing and agreeing upon our vision of a good course, in contrast Version 2.0 has been more about actually implementing, building on, and refining standards to ensure that such a vision can become a reality. The whole process aims to implement a vision of general education that facilitates knowledge acquisition, transferable skills, and a well-rounded character.

In order to implement our general vision and meet our objectives, we set up a comprehensive process that started with that general vision, set the objectives of each module, determined the basic course units, and ended with a review of course syllabi.

Standard 1: Articulate the aims of our vision of general education. This carried over from our earlier considerations of vision in Version 1.0, but here there was a focus on spelling out the vision more precisely. This resulted in the following set of aims:

  • to set high moral values and cultivate responsible citizens;
  • to understand the richness and diversity of human civilizations in order to face the challenges of globalization;
  • to recognize the social foundation of modernity and respect modern civilization;
  • to develop awareness of Chinese traditional culture and its wisdom;
  • to grasp scientific methodology and develop critical thinking;
  • to create team spirit and cultivate leadership talents.

Standard 2: Set up basic course units under each module.

Fudan general education always pursues the inherent logic and quality of courses. Around 200 core curriculum courses are grouped into about 50 basic course units, in order that students could see how these core courses are connected and intertwined logically. The 50 basic course units constitute a complete and comprehensive course system. It functions in 2 ways. First, we see the clear path of the general education idea to be materialized in the concrete teaching objectives of each course. Second, multidisciplinary teaching teams are formed based on the basic course units.

Standard 3: Ensure quality for every core course.

Fudan general education core curriculum had already developed a sufficient quantity of courses during Version 1.0. For Version 2.0, we needed to ensure the quality of those courses. We organized teaching teams under each module and basic course unit to discuss the construction of the core courses. The content of a course is made clear to students through a detailed syllabus, which includes the structure of the course, main points of thinking, reading materials, diversified assessment methods, etc. Students are also required to take part in discussion sections led by teaching assistants. Through discussion sections, we hope students receive training in reading classical texts, writing, oral communication, and other academic skills. We proposed different course requirements according to different modules. All of this is in keeping with the goal of Fudan “General Education 2.0” to upgrade each course’s quality by refining the course requirements.

Standard 4: Establish a complete system of teaching assistants.

The role of teaching assistants has become even more important because the general education core curriculum put a lot of emphasis on discussion sections. All the core courses of the first two modules now follow the pattern of lectures plus discussion sections in small groups. Each student is required to take part in 5 discussion sections led by teaching assistants, who themselves are graduate students. Every semester we recruit a team of teaching assistants around 200 and have to take a lot of efforts to supervise and train them in order that they could assist faculty to accomplish the objectives of each course. Now we have launched the teaching assistants “Growth Program”, which includes the training, evaluation and daily organization of teaching assistants. We also design some academic or recreational activities to develop a sense of belonging among the community of “little foxes (the nickname given to our teaching assistants)”.

Standard 5: Develop a closed-loop system of course evaluation.

Each course will be reviewed in a complete process of application, construction, and quality evaluation, and will either be recommended for upgrade or withdrawal. We have designed a detailed course approval process. The core curriculum committee and advisory groups of each module will review the application of core courses and give feedback, which helps the potential instructor revise the course content to better meet the requirements of general education. We also keep track of and evaluate the teaching outcomes of each course in order to help instructors adjust and revise their course content. According to the results of evaluation, usually from many perspectives, some courses will be recommended for withdraw from the core curriculum, while successful courses will be further “upgraded.” The instructors of well-received courses will be encouraged to publish corresponding textbooks and make online version of their courses.

Our team has designed a specific evaluation system to assess the quality and outcome of each core course in detail, which constitutes an essential part of the closed-loop system. We do not only assess the quality of one specific course, but also ensure that it serves the idea and objectives of our vision of general education.

Standard 6: Provide a complete service and management system for Fudan general education.

The center for general education works in conjunction with the core curriculum committee, which offers institutional guarantee for the service and management of general education. Besides, we have a full supporting system of core curriculum construction. We own an official website, an official WeChat account to release information and exchange ideas with faculty members and students. We also compile and edit some brochures for core curriculum instructors, teaching assistants and students. Furthermore, we also build platforms to promote the research of general education ideas and practice. We have edited and published a journal General Education Review since 2015. Last year, we started to produce and publish a series of books entitled Fudan General Education, which includes 3 collections: readers, translation series, and studies on general education. In the end, we also plan to extend general education outside the classroom. We will host different series of public lectures, devise short-term study tours, and plan other activities to diversify the modes of the general education core courses.

Although we carefully constructed Version 2.0 according to the six standards mentioned above, much careful work is still to be done before full-quality construction of the general education core curriculum is complete.

Objectives and Basic Core Units

Fudan’s general education program aims to cultivate in students a broad vision based on knowledge, transferable skills, and a well-rounded character. It’s hard to talk about these three levels separately. Each course offers a vision based on knowledge of its own field, but imparting knowledge only is far from enough. Knowledge itself is like a carrier, through which students are expected to form their own academic vision. It is especially important that students acquire capabilities of close reading, academic writing, active and respectful listening, discussion, reflection, and critical thinking and evaluation skills during the process of general education, but all of these capabilities should be cultivated and honed in a specialized field. It is by conscious training of the general education core courses that students not only acquire these capabilities but also transfer and apply them into the study of their own majors.

When students acquire these capabilities, they are able to absorb nutrients from knowledge of different fields, reflect on life, and broaden their minds. And this is also a process of cultivating character. Although it takes many efforts in other ways, cultivating all-rounded character is one of most important missions of general education. So, determining these three levels of objectives was essential.

At the same time, setting-up basic course units was central to strategy of implementing our vision of general education in every core course, thus making the core curriculum more systematic and logically coherent.

With the setting-up of basic course units, an interdisciplinary teaching team will be formed within each unit. For example, the teaching team of unit “Jingxue tradition (study of Confucian classics)” consists of faculty members from the department of history, department of Chinese language and literature, the school of philosophy, and the research center for Chinese excavated classic texts. Through discussion within the teaching team, instructors revise their reading list, main themes, and the required skills and capabilities students will acquire. Within the structure of basic course units, we are able to clarify further the objectives and requirements of each course, in order that all the core courses will be aligned to the general vision and objectives of the core curriculum.

One issue is that, even though students are required to select one course in each module, she or he may not know how the courses within each module are interrelated to each other. This means that even after finishing the course, the student may not see the whole picture of of a field and thus will not be able to use it for the purposes of developing her or his academic vision. To help resolve this issue, we design basic course units to show how courses relate with other courses within each module. For example, in the first module “Classics on Chinese Literature, History and Culture Heritage”, we have seven basic course units including the study of Confucian classics, Chinese classical philosophy, traditional historical texts, classical poems and essays. Students will get to know the structure of Chinese traditional culture and different features of it through their exposure to the whole core curriculum, even if they might not know what position the course takes in the map of knowledge and thereby have a whole picture in mind when they take an individual course.

Fudan General Education’s Traditional Roots

Fudan general education is a “rooted” general education. The idea and practice of general education has a long history in the world. And it has experienced a lot of modification and developed different but relatively fixed paradigms of practice, each of which is supported by a full-blown theory. General education in modern universities gradually forms its own character. Simultaneously, the Chinese nation has a great tradition in education. We also inherit bountiful spiritual legacies from the Chinese cultural tradition. All of these constitute conditions favorable to the development of our vision of general education at Fudan.

Furthermore, Fudan University has formed its own educational character during its history of more than 100 years. Therefore, when we say that our general education is “rooted,” it does not only mean that it is rooted in the traditional standard and idea of general education, but also that it is rooted in the tradition of Fudan University.

What we mean by rooted is: that we respect the characteristics of modern universities; that our general education is rooted in the Chinese cultural tradition; and that it is also rooted in Fudan’s hundred years of educational tradition.

The founder of Fudan University, Ma Xiangbo (马相伯), advocated patriotic passion, rational spirit, and insistence on the distinctive character of Chinese culture. When Li Denghui (李登辉) served as the president of Fudan University, he learned from the educational pattern of Yale University, and set up a modern curriculum in a mode similar to that of a liberal arts college. Therefore, Fudan has a profound tradition in the practice of general education.

During the presidency of Chen Wangdao (陈望道), Fudan University like all the universities in China at that time emphasized, “Red and Expert”. In 1980s, although there were no general educational courses, many faculty members with high professional achievements also delved deeply in the humanities. Now we would say that they had a vision of general education. For example, the faculty member who taught “Physics” was not just teaching the knowledge of physics. His teaching also sought to educate students in the background of thought, the world view of physics, and the history of physics. Even if he was teaching a specialized course, he passed on to students a grand vision, a spirit of scientific inquiry.

It is not just by accident that Fudan University raised the concept of “general education” very early in China. Rather, we awakened the profound tradition of our university. Our general education is rooted in our own tradition.

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