February ProVisions: Integrated First Year Experiences

The February ProVisions session focused on the topic of Integrated First Year Experiences (FYE), with the three presenters providing insight on how their specific departments are working towards improving students’ FYE here at The College of Saint Rose.  The presenters included Risa Fausette, Associate Professor of History and Political Science, Katherine Moss, Reference and Access Services Librarian, and Jennifer Richardson, Director of Residence Life.

American CityDr. Fausette began by explaining FLEP, The College of Saint Rose’s First-Year Learning Experience Program, centered around the topic of the American City, consisting of seven thematically-linked courses focusing on the urban experience.  Dr. Fausette is the coordinator of this program and detailed the six aspects of critical thinking that are both the skills and the basis for the FLEP courses’ learning objectives and assessment.  The six facets of critical thinking include: analytical reading; process-based writing; inquiry; interpretation; argumentation; and synthesis and the strategic use of evidence.  You can find Dr. Fausette’s PowerPoint presentation here: American City FYEA major point of emphasis for Dr. Fausette is the importance of teaching students transferable skills, skills that give students techniques to approach texts, problems, etc., in multiple academic/occupational settings, rather than skills that are discipline specific.  Dr. Fausette poses the question, Are students actually aware as to how developing these skills are essential to their success?  To help her students understand the relevance of these skills, Dr. Fausette found it helpful to bring into the FYE class upperclassmen or grad students who are student teaching or serving as interns to both emphasize the skills they are using in the field as well as “testify” how their academic skills created professional opportunities.  Dr. Fausette concluded by showing the group the overwhelmingly positive reactions/results that the American City Program has received so far, demonstrating growing confidence from the students in their ability to analyze, interpret, and write responses to texts that they are working with.

isaac asimovThe second presenter, Katherine Moss, provided insight on the abilities of the Library staff to contribute to and improve students’ FYEs.  Moss focused on the idea of “information literacy,” which is defined as “a set of abilities requiring individuals to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate,  and use effectively the need information.”  Moss was sure to point out that information is growing exponentially, making the task of information literacy all the more challenging.  The fact that now everyone can contribute to the digital world of information requires even more critical thinking and evaluating skills, to which Moss poses the question, how can we foster the critical thinking and evaluative skills needed when “teach to the test” is all these students have known?  Moss spoke about the difficulty librarians have in trying to address this situation in a one shot session, and, conversely, the success they had in being able to participate in the FLEP program.  By participating in FLEP, the library staff were able to be a part of the process, often invited back to classrooms more than once.  In addition, they were privy to the goals of the program (as wells as the syllabi and rubrics for assessment) in advance, consequently able to share ways librarians could support the program’s goals, receiving feedback from faculty in relation to how students were using and applying what they had been taught.  For more information, check out Moss’s Prezi here.

Knight SkillsLast but not least, Jennifer Richardson, Director of Residence Life, talked about the importance of opportunities to improve FYEs outside of the classroom.  Richardon’s PowerPoint (Knight Skills FYE) opened with four key quotes regarding the role of non-academic experiences and how they can contribute to and affect students’ faculty/academic interactions as well as student success.  Richardson discussed EXY 100, a class where first year students were required to attend sessions that focused on “soft-skills” such as: study skills, sexual relationships, wellness, managing interpersonal conflict, resilience, and alchohol and drugs.  In conclusion, Richardson provided some positive student feedback about those EXY sessions, such as: “Gave us insight on the college life basically an overview of what to expect in a college setting which was interesting because it made you think and reflect on certain issues. Like a therapeutic session.”  Richardson left off with the question/challenge: How can we give this experience to all 600 first year students?

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First Year Experiences: An Introduction

Why focus on students’ first year experiences?

The first year experience (FYE) is crucial in determining whether university students will continue with their studies and engage with peers, faculty, and their learning environment.  In other words, students’ early university experiences determine the quality of their engagement and success within their institutions.

Before coming to the ProVisions seminar on Integrated First Year Experiences (February 19), feel free to browse a few of the collected sources below that explain some basic strategies and tenets of FYE programs.

One of the best places to find resources for FYE programs is on the website of the University of South Carolina’s National Resource Center for First-Year Experience and Students in Transition.

Another great place to begin is with George D. Kuh’s “High-Impact Educational Practices,” which UMW uses to create their list of FYE best practices.  There is a great number of  lists detailing FYE best practices, but this list seems to encompass the top components of most others.  Some of the best practices given include:

  • Summer Learning Communities
  • First Year Seminars
  • Freshmen Interest Groups / Learning communities: integration of learning across courses, involving students with “big questions” that matter beyond the classroom; many learning communities explore a common topic and/ or common readings through the lenses of different disciplines.
  • Civic Engagement and Service Learning
  • Emphasis on diverse ideas, worldviews and cultures
  • Promotion of citizenship
  • Collaborative learning

Heidi Leming also compiles a helpful list of best practices:

  • Increasing student‐to‐student interaction (academic and social).
    • Freshman Interest Groups
    • Mentoring Programs
    • Common Reading Programs
    • Collaborative laboratories – between disciplines
  • Increasing faculty‐to‐student interaction, especially out of class.
  • Increasing student involvement and time on campus.
  • Linking the curriculum and the co‐curriculum.
  • Increasing academic expectations and levels of academic engagement.
  • Assisting students who have insufficient academic preparation for college.
    • Academic assistance programs
    • “Early Alert” warning systems for students at various points in 1st semester

Lastly, “Best Practice in the First Year: The Best of Times, And Not the Worst of Times,” by Roberta S. Matthews, Provost Emerita at Brooklyn College (CUNY), is a great source to look at as she weighs in on best practice commonalities she has seen among successful FYE programs:

  • Academic affairs and student affairs were on the same page. They understood that they shared the same students and the same goals, and worked together to offer coordinated and intentional curricular and co-curricular initiatives.
  • There was a sustained and virtually universal move from unclear, almost random approaches to comprehensive and coordinated programs. At the very least, the goal had been articulated even if the execution may not have been there yet.
  • There was a clear pattern of strategic hires and infrastructure reorganizations to achieve the goal of intentional and coordinated first year programs.
  • Advising and counseling had evolved into proactive outreach. Seen as a good to be encouraged and embraced, they were identified as areas where money should be invested.
  • There was virtually a universal commitment to FYE seminars. They ranged from small scale to full credit courses. They came in all shapes and sizes and fulfilled a number of different purposes, but the value of such seminars was widely recognized.
  • The use of learning communities in different formats was varied and growing. It was clear that the value of linking courses thematically had become a given in these exemplary programs. Many linked their learning communities with first-year seminars as well. Team approaches to these linkages included involving faculty, counselors, librarians, and student mentors. The learning communities often included a service learning or internship requirement of some kind.
  • As a group, the participating colleges were relentlessly self-assessing. They asked for and analyzed data and used that data to celebrate or improve their programs. They knew they could learn from the work and experience of others and had developed the broad overview that helps institutions make knowledgeable decisions.
  • Finally, they all had a clear commitment to addressing the issues of serving an underprepared, often over-extended student body.

Check out this video to hear what students and faculty from a local college have to say about their FYE programs:

We look forward to seeing you Tuesday, February 19th at 12pm in Standish A/B!