Only a couple of majors such as Elementary Education or Music have little to no room for elective classes.We want students to deliver their best effort, so knowing that the class counts toward graduation and will be graded is an incentive for them to gain the benefits of the class.The semester is 15 weeks long; once students have finished FS, they have some extra time to focus on their other classes, final exams and end of semester projects.This class size is optimum for each student to shine; as class size grows, so do the opportunities for students to hide and not be noticed.Instructor qualifications are a Provost’s mandate: we all have at least master’s degrees, and come from a variety of disciplines.The readings are from various disciplines. We find that not only do students develop their ability to synthesize diverse material, but that they also have the chance to consider issues from a sociological, biological, literary, artistic, or historic perspective. Finding their preferred approach to issues is part of major selection and career choice.We target neither overachievers or weaker students. All kinds of students have a place in the class.
Not an easy reader. We break down the essays into analyzable components, and demonstrate close, interactive reading for students.Depending on section, some or most of the reading discussions are led by students, either individually or in partnership. Learning to initiate and lead a good discussion is an invaluable academic and professional skill.One of the things that new students need most is to build relationships with other people who are facing the same issues. Opportunity to build friendships based on intellectual interests, beyond the social friendships of dorms and activity groups.Research indicates that learning cannot easily occur in an intimidating atmosphere.Students write short papers, usually one long research paper, journals, in-class and out of class.Some of the sections have students do a personal wintercount as a culminating project. There is more about the wintercount on the blog (and the blog address will come later).
Before students prepare to lead a class discussion, and during instructor-led discussions, students do in-depth analysis of sentences, paragraphs, and entire essays for context, subtext, and author’s intent.Students learn from one another’s experience about leading good discussions.We work with the kinds of questions that penetrate the material, questions that go beyond the TV reporter’s question to the person whose house has just blown away in a tornado: “How does this make you feel?”We as a society have lost our ability to have disagreements about ideas. We equate the idea with the person, and take great umbrage if someone does not agree with our ideas. In the class, we work on divorcing our individual selves from our ideas, so that ideas become abstract.Sometimes students are creative, but can’t craft a well-argued essay. Sometimes students can write a perfectly constructed essay, but it’s dull. Sometimes students can’t spell or they have mechanical issues. We work with them individually.One of the hardest things for students is to find good research topics. Either they want to research the entire history of Egypt, or they can’t decide between fashion design or butterfly collecting.Students today use the Internet all the time, but may not know how to judge good sources. And most of them don’t know how to search through academic sources for information they need.Students often change their majors. They come here with an idea of what they want to major in, and then they find out the kinds of classes they have to take for that major. They may take a class in the major because it sounds sexy, but they hate the class. We often talk about the disciplines hiding behind the essays we read, and we often see students seeking classes in criminology, anthropology, or environmental studies because of new-found interest through their reading.What kid hasn’t wished they could be someone different from high school? Wanted to really dive into their studies; wanted to have exciting conversations; be moved by art or write about things that really matter to them. This is a new beginning. They get to start building who they want to be, right now.
Students have the chance to develop and refine skills without their entire grade hinging on just one aspect of the class. They know they’re safe to try new things, and to work hard to improve. Instructors always have time to help students with the small classes we teach.
The worst thing about being a new freshman is that you think everyone’s looking at you recognizing you for a freshman. With that geeky stereotype hanging on from high school, students are often afraid to ask questions when they should. We try to anticipate some of those questions, plus we offer such a safe question-asking environment, that students don’t feel stupid asking.Some professors are intimidating. Some professors seem to expect students to be in the know about their topic, and they use words and expressions that sound impressive, but are unclear, and students especially in large classes, are afraid to ask. Students don’t even know how to approach professors.Oftentimes students seem to lose their identity in the cultural transition from high school to college, hometown to college town. What they knew, felt, and thought seems to lose value. There are many discussion and project opportunities for students to reintegrate that old self with the emerging new self.
One of the typical comments I get from students is that they were forced into the class by their parents, or that it wasn’t really their idea to register and so they didn’t expect to like the class. They’re often surprised that it becomes their favorite class, a combination of coffee shop atmosphere combined with writing workshop. The evaluations for this class are always very high.
A Class to Give New Students
The Best Possible Start in College
2 elective credits that count toward graduation
Traditional grading system, A-F
Offered the first 10 weeks of Autumn Semester
Small classes (15-16 students)
Taught by instructors with graduate degrees
Diverse classmates—all ability levels
Register on Cyberbear, listed under UNC
(Undergraduate Advising Center)
Reading essays about art, science, and culture
from the textbook Making Sense.
Student-led discussion of readings.
Small-group or partner projects; lots of student
Informal, non-threatening classroom
Writing, both formally and informally.
Opportunity for artistic expression.
Read for detail and synthesis
Build good discussions for classmates
Frame good questions for discussion
Practice civil discourse
Hone writing in various formats
Develop research questions
Acquire information literacy
Identify personal academic interests
Discover their academic identity
Envision what direction their lives will take
Public speaking in a non-threatening
Opportunity to work on their personal writing
issues, whether or not the student is a strong
Focus on developing strong, clear arguments in
One-on-one attention and mentoring with
instructor for any need of the student—specific
class projects, research ideas, major
choice, professional goals.
Acculturation to College ~ we’re not in high
school any more!
A small classroom with a caring instructor.
Safety as they experiment with their new
Academic bootstrapping: we demystify the
Arcana of Academia (thus eliminating the Scary
Students have the opportunity to bring their
experience, opinions, and insights into the
“Exclusive” marketing: we only have room for
Remember, the class only lasts 10 weeks!
It’s not an easy class, but it’s laid-back and the
instructors are guaranteed to be, if not cool, at
least friendly and approachable.