First Year Seminar as a Testbed for U2.0

Next fall, I am scheduled to teach a First Year Seminar as part of a pilot project to consider more widespread offerings. The topic of my seminar is globalization, which I think is ideal for a first year seminar. The topic is interdisciplinary and (obviously) in the news. First year students from almost any background are likely to have an opinion about globalization. And there is a plethora of sources available which are accessible to non-experts.

One of my motivations for teaching a first year seminar is the opportunity to “capture” first years before they get co-opted by the system: traditional instructors teaching traditional courses, upper class students who are happy to tell them how little work they can get away with and still clear the hurdles which constitute contemporary undergraduate education.

What I want is a digital environment which provides a scaffolding for:

* Research
* Brainstorming
* Analysis
* Presentation
* Discussion
* Reflection
* Summary

I want students to be able to do these things individually or collaboratively, which suggests the need to have private (personal) spaces and public spaces. The environment ideally should be able to support a variety of media: text, images, video, and audio. It should be easy to use and fun.

Oh, and I don’t want the environment to go away when the course is over–I want the students to be able to continue to use it, if they choose, in subsequent semesters. If I am successful in creating the course I’m envisioning, they will want to continue to use it to make meaning out of their subsequent courses and other life experiences.

I don’t know what specific tools are out there to provide this functionality–as an instructor, my comparative advantage lies in designing my courses, not in keeping up with all the software and other tools available–But I’m open to almost anything that might work.

I wonder how I can broach this idea with our IT support folk. I could tell them they could use my course as a testbed for anything they’d like to try which would support my pedagogical goals. I could tell them that I don’t ask for much and that I’m easy to please. 😉

I realize this isn’t an original idea, that they’ve been doing something similar for at least one other course at UMW, THEA 435. (In my defense, I actually had this idea before I heard of this other project.) I’ve been following that project on the Smooth Elephant Blog and as interesting as it is, it’s a bit different from what I’m hoping to accomplish. That’s not surprising since it’s an entirely different type of course: an upper level theatre course versus an interdisciplinary first year seminar. So I’m hoping they’ll be interested in supporting my project too.

Imagine that after they’ve done this a few times with very different courses, they might create a menu of Web 2.0-supported course environments. An instructor could come in and say, I want to do this and this and this. They could respond, Well, here’s what we’ve got “in the box”. Why don’t you pick and choose from the pieces that best support your instructional goals. Wow!

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2 Responses to First Year Seminar as a Testbed for U2.0

  1. Martha says:


    I believe I can speak for my colleagues and myself when I say we would be thrilled to support this kind of project. You’re right, we are doing something similar with Gregg Stull’s course. But, you’re also right that it’s a different beast than what you’re describing. That said, I think the research we’ve done in terms of tools and technologies could definitely be applied to your class–as well as some of the lessons we’ve learned.

    I, for one, am excited to start this conversation!

  2. Gardner says:


    What Martha said. 🙂

    We may have some interesting new options come fall … nothing I can talk about publicly yet, but stay tuned.

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