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Question 4

What learning outcomes should we expect the First Year Seminar program to meet?

Comments

Regarding the previous post: My apologizes for reading the 2005-2007 catalog incorrectly. I understood that the "development of successful advanced work" was the point to FYS, which instead it is the reasoning behind taking General classes in your first and second year.

Even so, the purpose of FYS still needs to be re-routed to focus on the skills a student needs to survive in college and beyond.

Is this class unfair to the students who have exceptional writing and studying skills and are still forced to pay for the class? An intelligent student just told me when I asked her about FYS, that her professor tried to cram way too much information into the class, had essay question tests, and the student didn't learn absolutely anything from the class. This student is also wasting their money on a class that they didn't retain any information from.

Although I never had to take FYS because I was a transfer student, I have heard an overwhelming response from Freshman that FYS is a "joke." For a campus that claims to pride itself in diversity, Gordon is absolutely correct in saying that "diversity is great as long as everyone thinks alike."

The purpose of FYS is to "emphasize the development of the intellectual skills, the communication skills, and the framework for learning needed for successful advanced work." From the many students I've had conversations with, "development of successful advanced work" is far from what they receive from FYS. Instead of a brief over arch of skills, why aren't the basics taught, such as: note taking skills, studying and reading techniques, scholarly writing skills, resume writing skills, internship/job searching skills, et al. These skills are what students REALLY need to succeed in their college life and beyond.

FYS should be focused on transitional skills for college. The class should make sure students make use of their time and understand the skills needed to succeed in college.

We were just having this conversation at lunch--I think FYS needs to really focus on the transition skills of college. Maria summed up my thoughts very well--writing skills are essential, as well as knowing HOW to use the library (and the invaluable librarians!), demystifying the Academic Assistance Center, etc. I am constantly encouraging my incoming students to think about taking Learning to Learn (which needs a name change, in my mind!) because it teaches them the SKILLS they need to survive the transition to college. I don't care if you are a 35 ACT or a 17 ACT, time management and study skills change when you are in college. I wish FYS could incorporate some of these things (as well as all of the fabulous things others have mentioned--let's make it a 6 credit class!) :)

We were just having this conversation at lunch--I think FYS needs to really focus on the transition skills of college. Maria summed up my thoughts very well--writing skills are essential, as well as knowing HOW to use the library (and the invaluable librarians!), demystifying the Academic Assistance Center, etc. I am constantly encouraging my incoming students to think about taking Learning to Learn (which needs a name change, in my mind!) because it teaches them the SKILLS they need to survive the transition to college. I don't care if you are a 35 ACT or a 17 ACT, time management and study skills change when you are in college. I wish FYS could incorporate some of these things (as well as all of the fabulous things others have mentioned--let's make it a 6 credit class!) :)

The First Year Seminar program as presently constituted should be abandoned. The small (11-30 students) IS classes in the fall semester have received the lowest SOT scores for Question #5. "How much would you say you learned in this course?" annually since at least 2003. The SOTs are presented at http://www.morris.umn.edu/academic/reports.html

If any individual instructor has such a record of habitually low SOT evaluations, the individual would be expected to seek mentoring and change his or her approach to teaching.

Since I hold the unique position of having been removed from the FYS faculty by Dean Schwaller at the request of coordinators Dr. McPhee and Dr. Meeks I think I can question its commitment to diversity of thought and approach. I was removed because I stated that I would not use the common reader then in effect, and that I would give tests. In FYS diversity is great as long as everyone thinks alike.

Years ago the Inquiry course was described as a "politically correct boot camp" in The University Register. I think FYS has the same danger of being a politically correct groupthink indoctrination. I suggest the committee review the SOT written comments of FYS students to see if this position is supported or not.

I think the resources of FYS should be returned to the disciplines. The disciplines should then be charged with developing a small class experience for their majors or students interested in their discipline that would integrate the ideas of the discipline with the broader goals of the liberal arts. Such a course could emphasize writing and discussion.

There have been many thoughtful and insightful comments already so I'm afraid I don't have a lot to add to the discussion. Important learning outcomes could include:
1)Improved writing ability
2)Orientation to academic and research expectations
3)Social support and guidance to first year students
4)Critical thinking
5)Exposure to the multidisciplinary interaction of a liberal arts education
One area for further consideration might be how any learning outcomes are measured. By what mechanism will we know if the program, and specifically the students, meet the stated outcomes? Some of these, after all, cannot be measured effectively by grades alone.
In order to garner more student input perhaps more indepth questions could be asked on Evaluation Day concerning the FYS experience.

I think the design of the FYS course is best suited for two things: adjustment, and writing skills.

There is relevance in learning to be a student, and more specifically, a college student. FYS is one of the only times students, coming from high school and under their parents care, have the chance to have the guidance from a faculty member and other students in their same situation about adjusting to college life. Moreover, its a place where, because the classes are small, a student can connect with a faculty member and learn about resources such as tutoring that can make them a better/successful college student.

FYS is also the perfect time to help improve a student's writing skills. Grading for an FYS class, I noticed that at the beginning, a lot of students lack strong writing skills, especially when developing an argument. The small, discuss based nature of FYS is the perfect setting to combine discussion and critical thinking with writing assignments. I was amazed to see the improvement in the papers that I graded as the course progressed, and realized that my FYS did the same for me.

I agree with Nic's suggetion that we place too much on the FYS. To me the most valuable goals of the FYS are a small, discussion-oriented course that pursues a meaningful question and demonstrates the integrative nature of a liberal education. It needs to be rigorous and to strengthen student's skills in critical thinking and communication, but most importantly it must communicate the nature and value of a liberal education.
Our students do not bring an awareness of the distinctive nature and strengths of such an education. The world around them constantly encourages a narrowing of thinking both ideologically and vocationally. The other courses they take can help but are based on a particular discipline or skill. FYS needs to model broad and integrative thinking in the context of a specific and manageable topic about which the instructor is excited.

What then are the outcomes:
1. a sense of satisfaction of understanding a specific problem more thoroughly
2. improved writing
3. improved critical thinking
4. an appreciation for the open-ended and integrative nature of liberal education

This is, I think, a $100M question, and one the campus really needs to have a conversation about.

I think there have been many goals proposed, desired, and/or assumed, and they probably more than a little 2 credit donkey can pull to everyone's satisfaction. Little of it's been formalized in terms of learning outcomes, however, so I'll drop them here as goals and let the committee wrestle with where to go from here :-). (In fact, it is arguable that some of these goals are more political than educational, which makes it hard to describe them via learning outcomes.)

Past goals that come to mind (and I may be forgetting some, and I'm not addressing possible future goals) include:

A better understanding of human diversity. This is the official umbrella topic of FYS. Opinions are mixed as to its appropriateness or success. In some ways I think this was addressed more consistently in the previous Inquiry course, but there will be those who disagree.
Introduction to university academic life. I think there's something potentially valuable to be done here, but I don't think anyone's ever pinned it down well.
Allow/encourage/expect faculty to teach an academically rigorous course in a relevant area they are personally interested in.
Provide a common academic experience for first year students.
Ensure that first years have at least one small, discussion oriented course.
Introduce first years to the concepts of the liberal arts.
Include an information literacy component.


This is a lot for any course to carry, and I think essentially impossible for a 2 credit course with a fairly fluid faculty and uncertain support from the campus at almost every level.

I am a firm believer in the value of a good first year course. I loved the Humanities course at Reed (and took the optional 2nd year Hum course). I've really enjoyed teaching Inquiry and then FYS at UMM. But I think UMM still struggles to find something enough people can really get behind and support in the way we need for it to be effective.

Personally, I think this issue is central to the first year experience, and I'm glad that it's come up in your discussions.