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December 7, 2001

Faculty Development

In November, Provost Art Johnson announced a call for proposals for First-Year Seminars (FYS), a new undergraduate program initiated as a result of recommendations of the Honors University Task Force. The FYS Program invites proposals from all tenured and tenure-track faculty for small first year courses that are collaborative in nature, emphasizing serious inquiry and the development of students' critical thinking and communication skills; more information and a proposal request form are available at http://www.umbc.edu/provost/FYS/index.html. The deadline for submitting proposals to the Office of the Provost is Friday, January 18, 2002.New students will benefit in a number of ways from these small, intellectually challenging classes. The seminars can help students make a smooth transition from high school to college work by connecting them with a faculty member and introducing them to their peers in an academically engaging context. Richard J. Light, in Making the Most of College: Students Speak Their Minds (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 2001), points out that one of the reasons many students run into problems in their first year is that they choose courses simply to get requirements out of the way, and as a result end up in large lecture classes that leave them feeling anonymous. “Nearly without exception, students who are struggling, or who are dissatisfied with their academic performance, are taking nothing but large, introductory courses” (Light, p. 39). Light notes that “another disadvantage of using freshman year to simply ‘get the requirements out of the way' is that students may not find courses that truly engage them, that excite them.”In launching this FYS Program, UMBC is also following one of the major recommendations put forth in 1998 by the Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University (Reinventing Undergraduate Education: A Blueprint for America's Research Universities. Menlo Park, CA: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; http://notes.cc.sunysb.edu/Pres/boyer.nsf). According to the Boyer Commission, “the focal point of the first year should be a small seminar taught by experienced faculty. The seminar should deal with topics that will stimulate and open intellectual horizons and allow opportunities for learning by inquiry in a collaborative environment. Working in small groups will give students not only direct intellectual contact with faculty and with one another but also give those new to their situations opportunities to find friends and to learn how to be students. Most of all it should enable a professor to imbue new students with a sense of excitement of discovery and the opportunities for intellectual growth inherent in the university experience” (p. 20).The benefits of these seminars, of course, also extend to the faculty teaching them. These classes will provide an opportunity for professors to explore topics of interest that might otherwise not easily fit into the traditional curriculum of a department, especially interdisciplinary topics. (For examples of similar courses taught at other universities, see the provost's website: http://www.umbc.edu/provost/FYS/FYSCourseDescriptions.html.)In addition, faculty can experiment with new teaching strategies or new writing or homework assignments. Not only do small classes encourage active participation, including discussion, oral reports and debate, they are also ideal for encouraging in-class or out-of-class small group work and cooperative student projects. Problem-based learning, where students spend several weeks wrestling with a complex issue, or case studies requiring selective research are both well suited to seminars.The Faculty Development Center has resources to help faculty explore the teaching opportunities presented by these seminars, including books and articles on active learning, problem-based learning and discussion leading.

Posted by dwinds1 at December 7, 2001 12:00 AM