When we make our final recommendations to Senate next month, the General Education Task Force will be recommending that incoming first-year students at Millersville be placed in small, supportive learning communities during their first semester. It is expected that many of these learning communities will include new Gen Ed first-year seminars - three-credit, theme-based, intellectually rich courses linked to a Fundamentals course (Engl 110, Comm 100). In order to move in this direction, we are asking that a pilot-test of about 20 sections of these new seminars be undertaken in fall 2005. We propose that they be taught as sections of UNIV 179 on an experimental basis with 20 students per seminar. We further propose that the sections be equally divided between Exploratory (undecided) students and those with majors at admission. Participation would be voluntary. Incoming students would receive letters informing them of the opportunity and asking that they indicate their top five choices of seminar topics. Students would be placed into seminars on a first-come basis until the various seminar offerings are filled. It is expected that these would be living-learning communities.
Rationale for the First-Year Seminars and Learning Communities
This proposal builds upon the success of our own growing experience with first-year programming for both Exploratory students and students with a variety of majors. It is also consistent with National trends to enhance the engagement of students early in their college careers to promote their retention and eventual success. A draft of the course proposal for First Seminars (attached) provides further specification and justification for these courses.
What is being asked of Senate?
Action is needed now on this proposal in order to recruit faculty for the pilot-test, to get the courses on the books, and to properly coordinate with the linked courses and residential life.
On a related matter, we are also seeking input about how best to present the final report and recommendations of the Task Force to Senate. We would like to propose having a substantial portion of the meeting on December 7, 2004 devoted to this report.
UNIV 179: 3 credits
Each Seminar section focuses on a different topic of strong interest to faculty and students. Seminars are designed to jump start the process of intellectual inquiry; students participate in a free exchange of ideas through discussion and oral presentations. Each Seminar should reflect the goal of an intellectually rich course both in terms of expectations for active critical thinking and in terms of appropriate yet challenging expectations for reading, writing, student research, and student-led discussion. Professors teaching First Seminars have a strong mentoring role as they assist students in developing a meaningful and purposeful approach to General Education that will prepare them for life.
An important part of the First Seminar is that most sections will be part of a learning community. Learning communities may be arranged as living-learning communities and Seminar sections may team with either the freshman writing or speech course. Whatever the design of the learning community, the goal is always to promote a richer experience that extends learning and relationship beyond the classroom. Seminars are limited to 20 students.
The First Seminar is designed to meet three critical needs: 1) to imbue an appreciation in students of critical thought as it is developed in a variety of disciplines, 2) to create a culture of intellectual richness at the beginning of a student's experience with Millersville general education, and 3) to improve student faculty interactions in the freshman or transfer year. Identification of each of these needs arose from an analysis of multiple sources of data including GENED Task force focus groups and surveys, the National Survey of Student Engagement, and data collected on the current 1-credit Freshman Year Seminar (UNIV 101).
The first need relates to the goal of developing a more purposeful general education program. The GENED Task Force conducted focus groups and surveys about the quality of general education in the fall of 2003. Faculty and students clearly expressed the view that our current GENED program was more like a menu of courses than a purposeful program. On a 5-point scale, with 1 being low, 26 out of 41 faculty and 11 out of 27 students rated general education coherence as either a 1 or a 2. Institutional structures and curriculum can support a purposeful general education program. Yet true reform requires a shift of culture and understanding that can only occur through sustained dialogue. Each seminar will include readings and discussion designed to raise dialogue about and appreciation for critical thought as it is developed in disciplines related to the seminar. Moreover, each seminar will include investigation of the relation between seminar questions and broader cross-disciplinary questions.
A second need indicated by the GENED Task force was for improved intellectual richness and challenge. A common theme of focus groups was that currently there is a perception that GENED courses are "supposed to be easy." Seminars are designed to challenge this assumption in the first semester. Each seminar should reflect the goal of an intellectually rich course, both in terms of expectations for active critical thinking and in terms of appropriate yet challenging expectations for reading, writing, student research, and student led discussion. Seminars are designed to challenge through piquing curiosity, sustained inquiry, and dialogue, rather than through the memorization of a large body of knowledge. Faculty will develop Seminars around issues, topics (often current), and questions that they are passionate about, yet that may not fit within the established curriculum. Students will be able to select seminars of interest to them.
Third, Seminars are designed to improve student-faculty interactions during the freshman year. Millersville ranks in the 30th percentile of Masters I and II institutions in terms of student-faculty interactions in the freshman year (according to the National Survey of Student Engagement). Typically, freshmen are placed in large lecture classes with little chance to interact with faculty. Each section will be limited to 20 students and will promote a seminar approach to learning as one way to create opportunities for rich interactions. Integrating the First Seminars with learning communities where possible, and including a service learning requirement when appropriate are additional ways to extend the bonds of friendship and interest beyond the classroom.
Finally, it is essential to address all of these needs early in the general education program. The current freshman seminar has been highly successful in helping new freshman transition to college. Students in University 101 have a 17% higher retention rate than students who are not enrolled in the program. Currently, University 101 is a 1-credit course offered only to students who have not declared a major. Also, University 101 is not designed to address the need for intellectual richness. The First Seminar (University 179) will be a 3-credit course with a substantial academic focus offered to all students.
By completion of this course, the students will
Comprehensive Outline of Course Content:
The very nature of First Seminar courses is that the content will be different for each section, prohibiting a full course outline here. However, each section will have several topics/issues in common.
Criteria for Evaluating Student Performance:
Each instructor will define specific evaluation procedures, but assessment should be consistent with a seminar format and the rationale for the course. Students should be expected to engage in challenging discussions, writing, and research; assessments should reflect this. It is likely that assessments will involve some of the following: research projects, intellectual portfolios, journals, class discussion, and oral presentations.
Each Seminar section will have its own bibliography.
General Education Credit:
Each Seminar section will be designated as a G1, G2, or G3 course. Sections must be approved by the General Education Review Committee. Like topics courses, individual seminar sections do not need to be approved through the normal governance process. Individual sections will be approved for 3 years; after 3 years seminar sections must be submitted for reapproval.
Collecting Data on Seminar Format Implementation:
This course is intended to be delivered in a true seminar format with extensive student-led discussion. In order to evaluate the degree of success in implementing this format, each seminar faculty member would agree to collect data using questions designed by the GERC. Data would be connected to a specific seminar section, but not to individual faculty members. Examples of the types of prompts that might be used for this purpose are listed below.
Asked questions in class or contributed to class discussions
Made a class presentation
Prepared two or more drafts of a paper or assignment before turning it in
Worked on a paper or project that required integrating ideas or information from various sources
Included diverse perspectives (different races, religions, genders, political beliefs, etc.) in class discussions or writing assignments
Come to class without completing readings or assignments
Worked with other students on projects during class
Worked with classmates outside of class to prepare class assignments
Discussed ideas from your readings or classes with faculty members outside of class
Worked harder than you thought you could to meet an instructor's standards or expectations
Discussed ideas from your readings or classes with others outside of class (students, family members, coworkers, etc.)
This course adheres strictly to the University Academic Honesty Policy.
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