New Gen Ed. courses tackle societal issues of the day

With the Occupy Wall Street movement recently making a splash around North America and the heated debate over the Keystone XL pipeline raging in the halls of both Edmonton and Washington, DC, two new courses have been selected as timely pilot projects for Conflict and the Social Context.

analysing the occupy movement
Analysing the Occupy movement.

If the pilots are a success the Department of General Education Assistant Professor and Coordinator, Cluster 3 (Community and Society) David Ohreen believes it will open the door for General Education to collaborate with faculty members from across campus and inspire a desire to teach other unique programming through General Education curriculum.

Assistant Professor Roberta Lexier will be teaching the Occupy Wall Street course (GNED 1303 - 001) next term.

Lexier says that the purpose of the overall course, Conflict and the Social Context, is to examine one conflict from a variety of perspectives.

"I chose to focus mine on the Occupy Movement in particular," Lexier says.

"So what we're going to do is look at Occupy from a variety of perspectives … historical, sociological, political, economic, ethical and moral, geographical, cultural, etc."

Lexier will be examining the social movements that have preceded the Occupy movement, including the development of the issues that led to the Occupy movement, in her course.

"Basically we'll be using Occupy as a way to look at social engagement from a variety of perspectives," Lexier reiterates.

Although the course will address different aspects of the movement in specific geographic locations, the focus will be on the movement as a whole.

"We'll be trying to clarify if Occupy is part of a larger movement that's happening currently or what its similarities and differences are from the 'Arab Spring' and those sorts of movements that have been happening," Lexier says.

While the Occupy course is obviously timely, Lexier notes says that it serves as a good case study for students because no one really knows where it's going.

"It gives us a reason to look at the complexities of it to see if we can figure out what's going on, how it links in with other issues, how we can get a sense of social change," she says. "I really hope the students get a kick out of working with a contemporary issue."

Oil Sands and the Future of Canada

The Occupy course isn't the only one to pilot with a timely context.

Next term, Bissett School of Business Associate Professor Gerry Taft will be teaching Oil Sands and the Future of Canada (GNED 1303 - 002) as the second pilot course under Conflict and the Social Context.

Alberta's economy will continue to be energy driven for the foreseeable future, but the issue of running a pipeline from northern Alberta across the United States has been the topic for great discourse recently.

Taft has similar goals as Lexier and aims to deconstruct conflict as it relates to the Oil Sands.

A variety of perspectives will also be addressed in the Oil Sands course such as implications to the Aboriginal populations in northern Alberta and environmental impact of extracting resources.

However, as Ohreen states, "I think the Oil Sands course will be timely … This is not a science course, but what we're doing is we're looking at the social implications or consequences of the Oil Sands from a number of different perspectives."

Programming worth building on

The pilot project is still pending final approval from General Faculties Council next spring so Ohreen and Lexier are hoping that the pilot courses succeed so that the program can continue.

Ohreen isn't sure how long these two timely topics will serve as suitable offshoots of the shell course Conflict and the Social Context.

However, if the pilot project is successful, Ohreen is hoping that it will encourage, "different faculties in different disciplines to teach a course in Gen Ed."

Along with these two new courses Ohreen feels the collaboration across disciplines will, "show students how complex these issues can be while giving them a broader understanding of a conflict, one that they might not necessarily get from a more traditional, single discipline course."

Ohreen says his department will have formal policies and procedures in place for recruiting professors from other disciplines to teach more conflict courses moving forward.

"We're really hoping this is going to be a good thing because it's not going to be static," he says. "We can keep the courses current, we can kind of keep the courses fresh and hopefully keep students engaged."

- Fred Cheney, Dec. 1, 2011