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First Year Experience Discussion Notes - Southwest Regional Meeting

First Year Experiences and Seminars were among three shared areas of interest for participants at the Southwest Georgia CCG Regional Meeting held at the Valdosta State University on April 16, 2016. Brief notes from the breakout conversation on this issue at the meeting follow:

Key Concern:

  • What is the core purpose of the First Year Experience?


  • Critical thinking isn't taught or learned by students anymore. (What students take for wisdom is often only information.)
  • We started out with a simple model and layered upon until it may not accomplish much of anything.
  • There is a tension between the academic and the affective functions of the first year experience.
  • First Generation College, Adult, online students and transfer students may need special "first year" programs.

One thing you can do:

  • Use students as peer instructors in FYE or programming for students on probation.  
  • Look for materials and resources that are aligned with the student body.  
  • Have a conversation with faculty about what they want the students to know and be able to do at the start of their second year and use that to build the expectations and learning objectives for the FYE.

Discussion Notes

  • There is a need for campus coordination for incoming students of all kinds
  • A challenge is that FYE not especially an experience; there is at times a lack of direction or continuity with programs.
  • Many faculty and staff want to do a themed first year experience but the conditions can work against it. 
  • FYE needs to be built around what campus assets that are in place.  GSW has the Habitat global village and their students all go before school year begins.  Want to refine it further for students in specific programs.  
  • "Every encounter a student has on campus is a part of a first year experience."
  • There is also a need to tailor the FYE for specific communities, majors, and types of students (e.g., adult learners, first generation students, etc.)
  • For students, the amount of credits a student can earn from the course matter (1 credit vs. 3 credits); Equally faculty compensation for the course is important, although it can be done with limited volunteers.
  • Pairing faculty and a member of the advising staff is a workable model.
  • FYE can serve as an orientation to the major, but if this is too much of the focus, students don't get the transition to college material.
  • Institutions can set up either a first year experience or a first year seminar to satisfy the requirement, with different models providing different elements. 
  • The question is "What is the purpose of the FYE on campus?" especially if students have a choice between a seminar and an experience.  Look to have learning outcomes for the first year and put this into the model.  It works well when it has been thematic and compensated, but this allows for time to plan.  School established an institute for first year learning communities (two or more courses blocked together with (ideally) the professors working together).  
  • Campuses want to keep learning communities because they have impact on students; there are faculty who do this well.  Looking at the seminar course applying in Area B.  Also thinking about a flexible variable Introduction to Critical thinking course to put within learning communities to help students investigate the major and determine if it is a good fit. 
  • First Year Seminar has a career, academic and affective component.
  • Trying to beef up the career component because so many students have to shift their focus when they get to or in college.
  • Four elements of learning objectives for the FYS/E: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving (want to embed problem solving throughout the first year); Career component linking academic work to career aspiration (want to help students understand the relationships between the courses they take that may seem unrelated); Campus Resources (which includes financial aid--financial literacy is part of the career center.
  • A significant problem is that First Year Experiences are a bucket where everything is placed (as is orientation), and it overloads the programs and overwhelms the students.  Having learning objectives for the first year experience/seminar can help avoid this problem.
  • If faculty see the opportunity to actually teach material in the field and can see the connection to the students, they will go above and beyond for these courses.
  • Orientation for new faculty to put them through learning for teaching and learning, and then apply these lessons for to the teaching of a FYE course.  Requiring training for instructors can help to orient them to the school.  
  • What to do with transfer students? There seems to be no model for this.   This is also true for online or adult/transition students.
  • Advance to Go (FVSU) was modeled off an online program, which excuses students from the orientation program.  Adult learners may need an orientation course, but it has very different needs and they may need to be created to support interaction among them.
  • Develop online FYE/FYS, especially for all online degrees. But not all student populations are well served by online programs. 
  • It is important to listen to student voices to make sure programs are meeting their needs.  For example, while military students may need specific items in the program, they may have other, social needs that may trump these concerns.
  • One of the hurdles to first year seminars was a requirement that LS students had to take them  (got a reputation that it was a basic needs students and if you couldn't get into a learning community)
  • Peer mentors can co-instruct with teachers in their University 1001 course.  They are expected to meet together and plan. (Storm spotters) 
  • Common reading is embedded in the First Year, but it struggles to be relevant because students don't read.