FYS survey prompts curriculum changes
First Year Seminar (FYS) will return to campus in the fall semester like many students: similar in form but with a few tweaks in personality.
The critical thinking and orientation portions of the FYS curriculum will see some significant revision. A comprehensive survey conducted by the 12-person FYS committee and completed by 75 percent of FYS participants revealed that faculty and especially students called for changes in the two areas.
“I think the report shows that the model of FYS really is an excellent model with really strong potential,” FYS director Stephen Minister said. “But a few of the content pieces, especially, we’re still figuring out how to do them well.”
The critical thinking and writing content sections will unite to make the units more cohesive and less labor-intensive. Eighty-four percent of FYS instructors said they were required to cover too much material.
Sixty percent considered their FYS workload “not reasonable.”
“That’s a pretty significant number, so it was clear to the committee that we needed to do something to reduce or streamline the required content,” Minister said. “Because the required content areas are so important, we don’t want to de-emphasize writing or critical thinking or communication.”
Still, 65 percent of FYS faculty said they look forward to teaching a fall FYS course again, while just 15 percent disagreed. Eighty-five percent of instructors said they built meaningful relationships with their FYS students, likely contributing to the general assent.
The cap of 18 students per class also helped. Seventy percent of faculty said the number is “just right,” while 30 percent felt it was too high.
With next year’s freshmen class projected to be around 40 students larger than this year’s, Minister said administration has assured him that the cap of 18 students will remain.
The vast majority of FYS faculty valued the bond they formed with students, and freshmen felt similarly about their classmates. Eighty-three percent of freshmen said their fall FYS course contributed to acceptance among peers.
Freshman Leah DeFreece said she met some of her best friends in FYS and doubts those friendships would have developed without the small community FYS creates and develops.
“It was [FYS] that led us to each other,” DeFreece said. “In that aspect, I do give high credits to FYS.”
DeFreece is a member of ASA’s curriculum committee to which Minister presented the FYS committee’s survey findings. DeFreece said she felt the fall’s FYS format needed revision and that the committee delivered.
“I think that some of the things they are changing do need to be changed, because I feel, and the surveys showed, that it didn’t work as well as [the committee] probably had hoped,” she said.
Freshmen were especially critical of the six required tailored experiences and accompanying journals.
“The tailored experiences were a great thing, but it’s just a lot to throw onto a new freshmen,” DeFreece said.
Fifty-three percent said the experiences did not help them understand the activities and resources available at Augustana, and 77 percent said the journals did not create an opportunity for meaningful reflection.
Minister said he heard those complaints loud and clear, and the orientation experiences will shift accordingly. Next year, only three experiences, under a different name, will be required. Either two or three journal entries will also be mandatory, but, rather than reflect on the experiences themselves, students will write about their transitions from high school to Augustana.
“One of the fundamental ideas behind the FYS, especially in the fall, is that it’s helping students transition to Augustana academically in terms of their writing [and] critical thinking abilities, but also everything else,” Minister said. “I think this new way of doing the journals will be very beneficial.”
DeFreece agreed. She added that the second semester has went smoother because she and her classmates have a better idea of what to expect and understand what FYS attempts to achieve.
Minister admitted that communication was lacking in the first semester.
“It’s always better if students understand and see the value of what they’re doing and are engaged with their courses,” Minister said. “Then you’ll really get 3-4 steps forward instead of 1-2 steps forward.”
Minister said there are two ways to most effectively improve the students’ FYS experiences. One is to more carefully explain to students how FYS benefits them.
“There were a lot of students who weren’t sure, even at the end, why they had to take this class,” Minister said. “So that’s a failure on our part to communicate the value of those courses.”
The other is to refine the curriculum. The FYS committee has made an effort, he said, to do both.
DeFreece said she was satisfied with the committee’s changes and believes Minister is operating with students’ best interests in mind.
The FYS committee will conduct a similar survey at the end of the spring semester before considering alterations to its curriculum.