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GE Designation Guidance

Current Guidance for GE Designations for Course Proposals


The GEEC Curriculum Sub-Committee uses as a guide the GE designation descriptions found in the GE section of the current catalog. GE PLOs (GELOs) may be found here. A link to these descriptions may also be found within the GE section of the Curriculog course proposal form.

The GE program is intended to provide students breadth in their curriculum to complement their major. Courses will also typically not be approved for a large number of designations but should instead focus on effectively addressing a limited number of General Education Goals. The course description should also clearly reflect that the GE goals are substantially addressed.

General education courses will typically not have multiple prerequisites that would make them inaccessible to a general audience. Designations should not be requested if pre-requisites would automatically satisfy the same requirement; for instance, an upper-division biology course should not request a Life Science designation if a pre-requisite already satisfies the requirement, since it would be redundant.

Courses proposed for GE designations should demonstrate in the Curriculog description and an attached syllabus specifically 1) how the course will provide students the described GE learning experience and 2) the opportunities (assignments) they will have to demonstrate their learning. These should be addressed specifically in the GE section (“Explain how the Course Learning Outcomes address each of the GE Program Learning Outcomes selected above”). Sufficient details should be given to allow the committee to determine that the relevant GE learning outcome is being substantively addressed and how it will be assessed.

The committee also looks at the Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs) to see that they align with the requested GE designations. A course with GE designations related to writing, for example, should list written communication in the CLOs. While course topics and assignments may change with instructors and time, the CLOs should be relatively constant and help to ensure that the course continues to meet the requirements of the GE designation.


Spark Seminar 

This designation is currently fulfilled by Spark 001 and Spark 010. Guidance for proposing a Spark seminar may be found here:

Spark seminars introduce students to life at a research university. They should support both a student’s intellectual development as well as supporting them as they join our campus community. It is expected that they will define a research question as a primary component of a Spark seminar. The seminar should also connect students with campus resources and provide a small-group community to support their success as first-year students.

It is recommended that instructors consider teaching a two-credit Spark 010 as the largest institutional need, but three and four credit Spark courses are also taught. Spark 001, which must be three or four credits, also requires that students communicate in a variety of ways to diverse audiences, including written, visual, oral and/or numerical modes of communication to explore and convey ideas.

Written Communication
This designation is currently only met through the WRI 10 foundational writing class.

Quantitative Reasoning
This designation is currently met through a limited number of foundational quantitative reasoning classes in various disciplines. New courses should typically not request this designation without prior consultation with the GE Chair.

This refers to foreign or computing languages and is usually satisfied in high school by students. UC Merced classes satisfying this requirement correlate to at least the second semester of a foreign language or specific foundational computing language courses.


Approaches to Knowledge (AtK) are broad ways of understanding the world. An AtK designation reflects substantial engagement with the approach; as a guideline, at least half of the class should engage with this approach rather than only a particular unit of a course. Given the requirement for substantive engagement, it is unusual for a course to be designated with more than one AtK. Students can receive credit for only one AtK for a given course.

Life Sciences
To receive a Life Sciences designation, a course must include a substantial focus on developing understanding of scientific principles that govern living systems and organisms and their interactions with the natural world. Life sciences include biology and related fields, as well as courses which include a significant emphasis in these areas.

Physical Sciences
To receive a Physical Sciences designation, a course must include a substantial focus on developing understanding of scientific principles that govern non-living, physical systems and the methods used to characterize the natural world. Physical sciences typically include chemistry, physics, astronomy, earth sciences, and related fields, as well as courses which include a significant emphasis in these areas.

Social Science:

Social Science courses focus on the studies of societies and the relationship of individuals within societies. These courses are often satisfied by courses in anthropology, cognitive science, economics, heritage studies, management, political science, psychology, sociology, and similar fields.

Literary and Textual Analysis: Learn how language creates meaning and ambiguity. (GELOs 2, 3)

Literary and Textual Analysis (LTA) courses should include a substantial focus on the interpretation and analysis of written materials. Writing or reading purely to define, understand, or convey content, would not count as LTA, which should include analysis, such as critiquing or contrasting written texts, rhetorical analysis, analyzing literature to identify themes, meaning or arguments, or interpreting texts to expand upon their arguments. The LTA requirement is typically covered through Arts and Humanities courses.

For instance, learning a language would not inherently satisfy this requirement, but analyzing, interpreting, and translating texts in a course could. Similarly, reading scientific journal articles or writing a thesis is not textual analysis, but a course that analyzes the genre of scientific writing and the associated form/meaning/style would count.

Media and Visual Analysis: Explore how media and images create, shape, and express meaning. (GELOs 2, 3)

Media and Visual Analysis courses should include a substantial focus on the interpretation and analysis of media and visual materials. As with the LTA requirement, the focus should be on the interpretation and analysis, such as critiquing, contrasting, and interpreting. Courses primarily based on written materials are more likely to be designated as Literary and Textual Analysis courses. A course that uses media or has students produce media primarily to convey information would likely not satisfy the requirement.

Societies and Cultures of the Past: Explore the interactions between multiple dimensions of past societies. (GELO 4)

Courses with a Societies and Cultures of the Past designation should have a substantial focus on multiple dimensions of one or more past societies. This can be accomplished, for instance, by focusing on multiple aspects of a society or culture or using multiple approaches to gain understanding through different perspectives. Typically, a course would not be designated as both SCP and Global Awareness, which focuses more on understanding the diversity of global experience in the modern world.

The course must address the human experience. For instance, a course on the structural engineering of cathedrals would likely not count, whereas a course that significantly relates the structure to the cultural meaning or historical context of the particular society may count.


The GE PLOs listed for each Intellectual Experience, formerly called badges, can provide additional details as to how these designations might be supported in a GE designation request. The GEEC encourages proposers to limit requests to two Intellectual Experiences per course to help ensure substantive engagement with each topic to avoid attenuation of GE program learning goals. Note that students can only receive credit for two Intellectual Experiences for any one course.

Scientific Method: Learn how the scientific method leads to new knowledge about the natural world by correcting and integrating previous knowledge using empirical evidence. (GELOs 1, 2)

This designation refers to the scientific method of observation, formulating and testing of a hypothesis, and refinement of that hypothesis. Note that the process of the scientific method, i.e. the “correcting and integrating previous knowledge using empirical evidence,” must be demonstrated as an integral part of the course. Some proposers request this designation based on using scientific methodologies (techniques, equipment, computational methods, application of machine learning, etc.) and the designation is usually not approved in these cases. Courses that satisfy the requirement include laboratory classes where students develop and test a model for unknown phenomena rather than confirming known relationships/information and philosophy of science courses that focus on the scientific method in which students investigate the nature of building scientific knowledge. 

Diversity and Identity: Consider how multiple kinds of difference—ethnic, racial, gender, and sexual—impact individuals and societies in the past and present. (GELOs 4, 5)

A Diversity and Identity course should allow students to engage deeply with differences and their impacts on people and societies. In these courses, students should accomplish the following aims:

  • (i) Identify the ways in which identities such as (but not limited to) race, ethnicity, Indigeneity, gender, religion, social class, disability, sexual orientation, nationality, and immigration status are socially constructed but have real-life consequences. (GELO 4)
  • (ii) Articulate how socially constructed identities are intersectional and shaped by the historic systems of power that perpetuate structural inequality. (GELO 4)
  • (iii) Generate insights into their own experiential knowledge and perspectives while situating their own experiences in relation to and/or intersection with identities different than their own. (GELO 4 & 5)
  • (iv) Analyze how political, economic, and social practices interact with cultural values and beliefs, both within one cultural system and when multiple cultural systems interact with one another. (GELO 4)

Global Awareness: Learn about environments, cultures, and issues in nations and regions outside the US. (GELOs 4, 5)

Courses with a Global Awareness designation should address global experience in the modern world. This experience may be met by courses about other parts of the world (including intermediate or advanced language study that includes culture), or by study abroad. It is expected that these courses will address environments, cultures, AND issues; for instance, a course comparing only the physical environments in different parts of the world would not satisfy the requirement. Typically, a course would not be designated as both Global Awareness and Societies and Cultures of the Past, which focus on the understanding of societies in a historical context.

Sustainability:   Explore the ways in which humans affect and are affected by the natural world. 

A Sustainability course should entail engagement with environmental systems broadly construed. Students should address the following aims:

  • (i) Describe various drivers, consequences, and trade-offs of environmental dynamics. (GELO 2)
  • (ii) Analyze ecological, social, and technological systems in scientific, cultural, and/or historical contexts. (GELO 1, 2, & 4)
  • (iii) Evaluate environmental and economic resource streams, noting relationships among them. (GELO 2)
  • (iv) Apply appropriate quantitative or qualitative reasoning to the analysis of environmental systems. (GELO 1 & 2) \(v) Promote sustainability by practicing critical inquiry, creative expression, social justice, and community engagement. (GELO 2, 3, 4, & 5) 

Ethics: Investigate the ethical implications of research, policy, or behavior. (GELOs 1, 5)

Students investigate the ethical implications of research, policy, or behavior. This requirement can be met either by a course that specifically focuses on ethics, or by a methods course in the major that makes research ethics a central theme.

Guidance for Upper Division GE Designations

Please note that the Spark seminar, Crossroads and Culminating Experience are integrative components that appear at the beginning, midpoint, and end of the GE curriculum. Proposers should not request both a Crossroads and Culminating Experience designation for the same class since the former corresponds to intermediate learning expectations and the latter to advanced learning expectations.

Crossroads (GELO 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Crossroads GE designation is described as “Like the Spark Seminar, the Crossroads course will focus on a specific topic but from an interdisciplinary perspective. It emphasizes different, yet complementary, disciplinary approaches, methods, and assumptions, and provides students with an opportunity for research and analysis.” The committee in its review will look for demonstration of the aspects of the course that draw from different disciplines, with specific disciplines mentioned, lecture topics, readings, etc., as well as the specific opportunities students have for research and analysis (types of learning activities and related assignments).

The ideal Crossroads course would be team-taught by faculty in two different departments, but this is not typically feasible. While the course can be within a student’s major, the subcommittee will look for evidence that the course makes an effort to bridge to other ways of thinking. We discourage addressing only discipline sub-fields as a criterion for crossroads. A good justification should be provided about how the subfields address different disciplinary perspectives.

Writing in the Discipline (GELO 3)
With respect to the Writing in the Discipline (WID) GE designation, it is described as “This upper division requirement can be satisfied either with a designated writing course or a writing-intensive course in the major. The focus is on how to write for a particular field. A one-credit lab course attached to another course may also satisfy this requirement if the primary focus of the lab is writing.” The GEEC Curriculum Sub-Committee has developed a set of working guidelines for WID based on what it has found at other institutions, described below. Not all are required to be met, but at least some of them should be addressed to distinguish the proposed course as particularly providing opportunities for students to learn about writing in the discipline. One key element is writing as an iterative process, where students receive feedback on drafts to revise and refine their writing process. As a general guideline for these writing intensive courses, students will typically write at least 20 pages through this iterative process during the semester.

            Guidance for WID designation:

1) We want to see that there is writing that is at least going through summative assessment and we would like to see an iterative process of formative assessment of the writing as well.

2) The writing that the students are doing should be similar to what they would be doing as a professional in the discipline.
3) The writing should make up a sizable portion of the course grade.
4) The students should be pointed in the direction of resources (for example, many professional societies have style guides for writing), and it’s even better if they use the resources in the class.
5) We like to see some class time devoted to teaching professional standards and how a particular discipline will approach writing and communication.

Culminating Experience
This should take place in an advanced course, since it is an opportunity for students to demonstrate the totality of their learning. The GE program approved by the Senate faculty describes this GE designation as addressing GELOs 1-5, so this should be supported as described above in the designation request. In most cases, disciplinary PLOs align closely to GELOs, so both can be addressed, and this is often described as the ideal culminating experience.

The Culminating Experience requirement may be fulfilled through traditional capstone courses, senior or advanced seminars, service-learning courses, portfolios, or other methods majors choose to integrate learning in the program. Regardless of the specific format, the Integrative Culminating Experience should have strong components of:
  a. Communication, including at least two different methods;
  b. Research;
  c. Engagement with others (team-building components, collaborative work, presentations,
      student leadership of discussion, etc.)

Note that it is not necessary that a student complete a Culminating Experience in their major, but this is the ideal scenario.

A component of the Diversity and Identity expectation above is that students integrate their understanding of items 1-4 (in DI description) with their own discipline-specific skills to ask complex questions about local, regional, and global problems. The Culminating Experience should help students accomplish this aim.

Revised 11-03-2023