First Year Seminar kicks off for all freshmen
As the 2016-17 academic term begins, all freshmen are now unified under one general education plan, SOPHIA.
With that comes the full rollout of the First Year Seminar, which underwent a pilot program last year in which 23 percent of freshmen participated.
The program received solid reviews and an increase in retention (91 percent for participants compared to 82 percent for nonparticipants), which informed FYS director and philosophy professor Stephen Minister that the curriculum was ready for the class of 2020.
“This is really a significant change, a significant new program, so whenever you do something new, it’s always good to test it out first,” Minister said. “Generally, we were very happy with how things went. The instructors really enjoyed the classes and felt like the students did really well in the classes.”
Last year’s FYS students did well enough that nearly all of them elected to return this fall. Minister said that the curriculum wasn’t created with higher retention in mind, but that better coursework should make students want to stick around.
“I think retention is a byproduct of a good educational experience that meets students where they’re at, that gives them support and carries them forward,” he said. “So my goal was always to create that quality of education.”
Registrar Joni Krueger said her office ensured that the demographics in the pilot program matched the rest of the freshman class. This careful selection adds credibility to the retention numbers.
Sophomore Holly Wilson was one of last year’s guinea pigs and said that, despite some early reservations, she appreciated the FYS experience.
“It was hard at times, but I think it was definitely worth it,” she said.
Wilson looks back on her two FYS courses fondly in part because if what they allowed her to bypass in the general education plan.
Because FYS focuses on five skills Minister considers “basic building blocks” of education (writing, oral communication, critical thinking, ethical reasoning and information literacy), Wilson and other FYS students were allowed to forego areas 1.1, 2.1a, 2.2 and one of 3.1a or b of the general education plan.
Among those courses are English 110 and Philosophy 120, AKA critical thinking. Minister magnified these courses as ones which students “slip through the cracks without taking.”
He estimated that 75 percent of students did not take critical thinking and another 40 percent avoided English 110. Both are integrated into the eight credits which compose FYS.
“Now all our first-year students will get a unit on critical thinking,” he said. “So it won’t be as long or as in-depth as (the three-credit, semester-long current offering), so that’s the trade-off.”
The same trade-off will occur with English 110, which Humanities professors have taken issue with in the past, according to the Mirror archives.
Some professors urged that only english teachers should teach english classes. As it stands, teachers from the sciences will teach some writing as part of their FYS course.
Minister said professors have been receiving supplemental training in these areas to ensure readiness, but Wilson questioned whether teachers should stick to what they know best.
“I feel like it would be different, having an science teacher teach you the english part,” she said.
Wilson also said that her two courses were a little unorganized, but attributed that to the general minor pitfalls of a trial run. She added that her professors’ motivation to teach a course they designed in an area of personal interest more than made up for it.
“I think it’s cool because they got to choose a subject that they were super interested in, and you can tell when someone’s interested in what they’re teaching,” she said.