In its final recommendations to Senate last year, the General Education Task Force recommended that incoming first-year students at Millersville be placed in small, supportive learning communities during their first semester. It was expected that these learning communities would 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, a pilot-test of about 10 sections of these new seminars (UNIV 179) was approved by Faculty Senate for fall 2005. Eventually, seven proposals came forward and five were approved and offered this fall.
Five sections of Exploratory (undecided) students are currently involved in the pilot-test. Incoming students were randomly chosen from among all Exploratory students and received letters informing them of the program and the five topics and asking that they rank order their top five choices of seminar topics. Students were then placed into seminars on the basis of their choices until the various seminar offerings were filled. (The brochure with the seminar topics is attached.)
An assessment plan was developed and included a mid-term, online survey (completed by October 21st) of first-year students. These interim results will be shared with Senate at its next meeting. Additional assessments (longer survey, focus groups, sampling of assignments, monitoring of persistence and academic success) are planned for the end of semester and beyond. 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 (distributed last year and available on the Gen Ed website) provides further specification and justification for these courses.
Informal feedback from current instructors and students is generally positive. Faculty and students both seemed highly engaged and excited about the topics and the process of exploring them in the context of a seminar and learning community. Folks outside the University have also taken notice of the program. Encouraging words in response to this new three-credit option have come from John Gardner, the Senior Fellow of the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, and from Gillies Malnarich, the co-director of the Washington Center for the Improving the Quality of Undergraduate Education. Additionally, MU faculty will be presenting on the pilot-testing of this new first-year initiative at an AAC&U conference in February.
What is being asked of Senate?
Rationale for the Continuation
While the experience of teaching the seminars this fall and the results of the assessments will begin to educate us about the viability, benefits, and perhaps challenges of this new first-year programming model, decisions to adopt this model on a more permanent basis should await more extensive testing and a longer time span for follow-up. As we continue to monitor the present cohort, a continued expansion and refinement of the model based upon experience to date seems warranted. If we are to consider implementing this model on a wider scale, as has been proposed, we need to continue efforts to expand the offerings, make refinements based upon experience to date, and continue the experimentation and careful assessment of results to ensure that the objectives of the initiative are being achieved.
Gen Ed First Seminars: Sample Seminar Topics
Appearing below is a listing of sample first-year seminar topics that have been proposed by Millersville faculty or by faculty at similar institutions.
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