Competencies in the Major

As of Fall 2014, Departments are responsible for incorporating into their majors the following academic competencies:

  • Advanced Writing
  • Critical Thinking
  • Oral Discourse
  • Information Literacy  

This page is designed to assist Departments as they prepare to demonstrate how these competencies will be met by any student graduating in a given major. Included here are the definitions and learning objectives for each of the academic competencies, forms that Departments must complete so that their plans can be reviewed and approved by the Undergraduate Academic Council, examples of activities that teach each of the competencies, and examples of completed academic competency forms representing majors in the Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, and Humanities.

Approval Process for Competencies in the Major

Departments need to submit Academic Competencies materials in two separate PDF files. One file should contain just the four completed academic competency forms, and a second PDF file should contain the supporting or supplemental material such as appendices and relevant course syllabi (in numeric order). To facilitate the review process, a cover page/table of contents describing the contents of the material in the supplemental file should be included.


The following link provides some important and helpful strategies for Departments as they begin planning for the Approval Process:  Tips for Incorporating Competencies.


No later than December 1, 2013, all Departments should submit the forms and supporting materials to their respective Dean's office. All CAS Departments should submit their material to the attention of Cindy Endres in the office of the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, at [email protected]. Once the materials are logged by the Deans' offices they will be emailed to the attention of Richard Fogarty, Associate Dean for General Education, at [email protected], who will forward them to the Undergraduate Academic Council for review.


Additional questions or comments:

Richard Fogarty Ph.D.

Associate Dean for General Education, LC 31
Ph: (518) 591-8516 / Fax: (518) 442-4959
[email protected]


Advanced Writing

Definitions and Learning Objectives

Educational experiences that satisfy the Advanced Writing competency in the major will provide students with sustained practice in increasingly sophisticated writing, in a variety of formats appropriate to the discipline. Faculty will guide students toward writing effectively in the discipline by providing appropriate evaluation of written documents, including opportunities to incorporate feedback and progress as writers, either through revision or subsequent assignments. Students' coursework will also convey knowledge of and access to the necessary tools and resources for writing in the discipline.


Students completing educational experiences that satisfy the Advanced Writing competency as part of the requirements for graduation in the major will:

  1. demonstrate increasingly sophisticated writing according to the conventions of their academic discipline;
  2. be able to communicate clearly in writing, employing fundamental rules of usage, style, and mechanics in the context of their discipline;
  3. be able to evaluate critically a variety of written texts, including their own;
  4. demonstrate the ability to incorporate critical feedback on their writing, coming to understand that revision and rewriting are an integral part of the writing process.

Examples of Activities that Teach Advanced Writing

Advanced Writing Form

Critical Thinking

Definitions and Learning Objectives

Critical thinking is the systematic process of analyzing and evaluating data, hypotheses, arguments, or critiques. It is an essential component of any academic major. The research, scholarship, and creative activities of university faculty ensure that our academic disciplines are constantly evolving. The facts and theories in academic disciplines are essential knowledge our students must learn, but it is mastery of critical thinking that will allow for lifelong educational and occupational development, and facilitate students’ functioning as engaged citizens. Students’ coursework in the major will cultivate in them habits of critical thinking, as they learn to approach questions and problems in critical, logical, and reflective ways.

Students completing educational experiences that satisfy the Critical Thinking competency as part of the requirements for graduation in the major will:

  1. formulate complex questions, problems, and hypotheses clearly and precisely, and apply familiar and new concepts in developing solutions and conclusions;
  2. gather and assess relevant information/data;
  3. test hypotheses against relevant criteria and standards, accounting for the facts;
  4. develop well-reasoned arguments and communicate them effectively to others;
  5. demonstrate habits of reflection upon their own and others’ thinking—identifying, analyzing, and evaluating their own and others’ arguments; and challenging conclusions with alternative explanations or points of view.

Examples of Activities that Teach Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking Form

Oral Discourse

Definitions and Learning Objectives

Oral discourse provides opportunities for students to develop the oral communication skills they need to participate more effectively in public and academic debates and discussions. Each academic major will offer opportunities for students to participate in a variety of communication contexts appropriate to the discipline, and to reflect on the principles and theories relevant to specific oral communication activities.

Students completing educational experiences that satisfy the Oral Discourse competency as part of the requirements for graduation in the major will:

  1. communicate ideas effectively appropriate to a specific context and according to a specific set of criteria;
  2. establish and maintain an appropriate performer/audience relationship in a given oral exercise, and actively engage with listeners/audience;
  3. respond to, and where appropriate, incorporate listener’s comments and questions;
  4. evaluate, orally or in writing, an oral performance;
  5. regularly practice communication skills through questions, discussions, debates and/or presentations (both formal and informal). 

Examples of Activities that Teach Oral Discourse

Oral Discourse Form

Information  Literacy

Definitions and Learning Objectives

Information literate individuals are able to gather, evaluate, use, manage, synthesize, and create information and data in an ethical manner. They also understand the dynamic environment in which information and data are created, handled, and enhanced. Students demonstrate information literacy through finding information from appropriate sources; evaluating, using and managing information; and appreciating the role of information literacy in learning. Learning is understood here as the constant search for meaning by acquiring information, reflecting on and engaging with it, and actively applying it in multiple contexts. To this end, each academic major will offer increasingly sophisticated research assignments that rely upon diverse information sources. Students will find, process, evaluate, and cite information sources, creating and sharing information presented in multiple formats from multiple sources in a form appropriate to the discipline.


Students completing educational experiences that satisfy the Information Literacy competency as part of the requirements for graduation in the major will:

  1. understand the information environment and information needs in the discipline in today’s society, including the organization of and access to information, and select the most appropriate strategies, search tools, and resources for each unique information need; 
  2. demonstrate the ability to evaluate content, including dynamic, online content if appropriate;
  3. conduct ethical practices in the use of information, in ways that demonstrate awareness of issues of intellectual property and personal privacy in changing technology environments;
  4. produce, share, and evaluate information in a variety of participatory environments;
  5. integrate learning and research strategies with lifelong learning processes and personal, academic, and professional goals.

Examples of Activities that Teach Information Literacy

Information Literacy Form

Samples of Completed Competency Forms

The following links are examples of completed Academic Competency forms and the relevant supplementary materials for three disciplinary areas. They are intended to provide some insights into how a Department might address each competency's learning objectives. The content in some of the examples is still in development and has not been reviewed and officially approved by the UAC as of August 2013.

Natural Sciences:
AATM Academic Competencies Sample
AATM Supplemental Packet Sample

Social Sciences:
RPOS Academic Competencies Sample
RPOS Supplemental Packet Sample

AEAC Academic Competencies Sample
AEAC Supplemental Packet Sample