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Understanding the new OLE Core

St. Olaf implemented OLE Core at the beginning of this academic year in the fall of 2021. In the fall of 2016, St. Olaf began examining the general education curriculum with the intent of revision, which was driven by a GE Task Force consisting of a variety of faculty members and student representatives. Between 2018 and 2019, the GE Task Force created branches of additional groups composed of faculty, staff, and students who created outlines for a new general education curriculum. After meeting with the full faculty to discuss the GE Task Force’s draft guided by the outlines written by the groups, the draft underwent some amendments. OLE Core became official after it was approved by the full faculty and the Board of Regents.

In an email, Associate Professor and Chair of English and Director of Race Matters Jonathan T. Naito said the foundation that the OLE Core was built on. “The OLE Core is specific to St. Olaf, though many of its elements mirror trends in general education on campuses nationwide. Our thinking about subjects like writing, religion, language, quantitative reasoning and computing, experiential learning (internships, undergraduate research, and off-campus study), and how to help students build a strong foundation for their college careers during their first year was informed by the work of other colleges around the country” Naito said. The guiding principles for revising general education curriculum are based on one that “has breadth that complements depth in a major, supports the college mission, is owned and supported by the faculty, is forward-looking, is inclusive, accessible, and supports equity, is resource sensitive, promotes student agency” Naito said. 

The general education curriculum had not been revised in more than 20 years. This served as a driving force for igniting the development of OLE Core. As the world around St. Olaf has changed since the 1990s, it was important for St. Olaf to adapt to the needs of the students, faculty, and staff by changing the general education curriculum. 

“Personally, I think that the OLE Core is more forward looking, inclusive, and equitable than the old GE, and that it does a better job of supporting student agency. Those are important differences” Naito said. 

St. Olaf promotes itself as a liberal arts college and I was interested in learning how OLE Core plays into the liberal arts experience for students and faculty. For liberal arts colleges the emphasis is on students taking courses in a broad range of subjects outside of their primary area of interest. There are two opposing ways to accomplish this. First is through a long list of requirements that force the student to explore more areas. The second way is through a shorter list of requirements that gives the student more autonomy in determining which classes to engage in. OLE Core is designed to utilize the benefits of both approaches. “We have some relatively specific requirements that ensure that all students will get exposure to particular things, we have some broader requirements that open up more choices for students (in comparison to the old GE), and, because the OLE Core will require fewer courses to complete than the old GE, students should have more room in their schedules to take courses that simply interest them,” Naito said. 

An important note for students is that the shift from the GE requirements to OLE Core does not alter requirements for all majors. The change has influenced departments to “think differently about the courses that they will offer and the goals that they have for their students,” Naito said. This may mean that some departments have phased in new changes alongside the OLE Core requirements ­— however, the greatest change comes with the writing requirement for students. In the general education curriculum, students were required to complete the first year writing requirement and four writing intensive courses. The OLE Core created a new first year writing requirement that must be completed, one writing intensive course that fulfills the Writing Across the Curriculum requirement and a Writing in the Major requirement. 

“Most students will follow the requirements — the general education/OLE Core requirements and major requirements — that were in effect during the fall of their first year at St. Olaf. If a returning student declares a major that is new in fall of 2021 or they now choose to declare a major that was newly revised for fall of 2021, they will also fulfill the OLE Core requirements,” Naito said.