For a couple of years, I’ve written about our institution’s pilot program to offer first year seminars.
We have now made it a requirement as part of our general education curriculum. It’s not clear, though, that all our faculty really understand what the FSEM program is about. What I’ve witnessed is that even professors with decades of experience don’t really comprehend the program until they try teaching a course in it. Teaching a seminar-style course to first year students, where the emphasis in the course is on inquiry, rather than presentation or even exploration of a settled body of knowledge is quite different from either an upper-level seminar or a traditionally introductory course which enrolls first year students. The fundamental purpose of the FSEMs is not to teach content, but rather to introduce students to the life of the mind. At one level this has developed as an emphasis on teaching skills, but what we’re really to articulate is something more holistic, not skills per se, but rather a model of the process of intellectual inquiry, the art or culture of the intellectual life.
A group of us are developing a summer workshop for FSEM instructors. In the past, we’ve had a one day (6 hour) workshop organized along skill lines, with sessions on writing, speaking, research skills and technology tools. This year we’re making it two full days.
Yesterday we had what may prove to be an epiphany. Instead of a skills-orientation, we’re going to try to organize the sessions in terms of the themes we want FSEMs to embody. The idea is to bring in the skills in context as appropriate. The next step is to identify the themes. I’m finding that easier said than done. Examples might include:
* What is a scholar?
* The role of inquiry/exploration (as opposed to learning established ideas)
* Knowledge as development of arguments rather than a collection of facts
* Critical Thinking
* Evidence, credibility, expertise
This listing is incomplete at best. I’d really appreciate some additional ideas along these lines and I suspect that talking about it with you will help.