Student FAQ for Grand Challenge Learning Pilot

  • What is Grand Challenge Learning (GCL)?

    Grand Challenge Learning invites you to explore some of the biggest problems in society today. A Grand Challenge Learning course introduces you to how people from all over campus think about these problems—or “grand challenges.” At Illinois, we have identified three grand challenges, or “pathways”: Inequality & Cultural Understanding, Health & Wellness, and Sustainability, Energy, & the Environment. Each of the GCL courses follows one of these pathways as a kind of theme for the course readings, assignments, and activities. GCL courses also give you a chance to become familiar with the outstanding campus resources available at a research, land-grant institution like Illinois.

  • What kinds of classes does GCL offer? What department are they in? What are they about?
    GCL courses are taught by faculty from all over campus, so they are not in one department or college, but instead are interdisciplinary. Grand Challenge “Experience” (or GCX) courses are 100-level courses designed for first-time freshmen and transfer students; seminars are capped at 25 students that focus on hands-on—or “experiential”—learning. Experiential learning recognizes that education is more than just memorizing facts and taking tests. Instead, GCX courses ask you to create a project or a design, or participate in a community-engaged activity—so that you can both connect to a topic and produce knowledge. GCX courses are taught by full-time faculty and are open to undergraduate students from all over campus.
    Here are some sample course titles from past and present GCX courses, to give you an idea of the range of ideas and approaches they cover:

    Black Music and Social Justice
    Cultures of Debt
    Documenting Inequality
    Fictions of Sustainability
    From Farm to Table
    Humans and Animals
    Morality, Methods, and Medicine
    Mapping Inequalities
    Stereotyping, Prejudice, and Discrimination
     The Molecular Me 
    What’s Autism Got To Do With It?

    Our Grand Challenge “Critical Frameworks(CFM) courses are 200-level classes designed for sophomores, juniors, seniors, and more advanced transfer students. These Frameworks courses, also taught by full-time faculty and open to all undergraduate students on campus, are made up of 5-7 professors who take turns giving a lecture each week, and then are in charge of a discussion section of 20-25 students. If you take a Critical Frameworks course, you will be in one of these discussion sections, and your professor teaching that section will grade and evaluate your work. In CFM courses, you learn from multiple professors, rather than just one.

    The Fall 2016 CFM courses are:

    Frameworks for Inequality and Cultural Understanding
    Frameworks for Building Healthy Communities
    Frameworks for Sustainability, Energy, & the Environment

    Both Experience and Critical Frameworks courses fulfill one or more General Education requirements, and have no pre-requisites!

  • What is General Education? Why is it important?
    Like most other universities, the University of Illinois requires that you take General Education—or “Gen Ed”—courses to gain and use broad knowledge beyond the specialized learning found in your major or discipline. While you might have earned some course credit before arriving on campus, we believe that General Education is still a critical part of your education, regardless of your preparation or major field of study. For that reason, each of the GCL courses—both the 100-level Experience and 200-level Critical Frameworks—meet one or more General Education requirements toward graduation. For more information about Gen Ed requirements at Illinois, please take a look at this campus website.

  • Why should I take a GCL course? How do I know if GCL is right for me?
    We think any interested undergraduate student can find value in a GCL course, but we especially encourage you to take one if you are looking for smaller class sizes, hands-on learning, and interdisciplinary approaches to important topics for our time. Anyone can take them. In fact, that’s one of the best parts of GCL—meeting professors and students from areas of campus you might never meet otherwise! 

  • Can I take more than one GCL course? Can I take courses in different pathways?

    Yes! You can take multiple GCL courses—GCX classes and CFM classes—and take courses that are in different pathways.

  • Where can I find out more about these classes? Who can I talk with?
    For more information, please contact Professor Kelly Ritter, Provost Fellow for Undergraduate Education, and also please see our GCL website, here. We would be happy to give you more information in order to help you learn more about where and how GCL can fit into your overall Illinois experience!