Mentioned briefly in Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles' annual letter to the Faculty was the idea of seminar-style courses for all first-years. This suggestion, however tentative, points to a potentially beneficial addition to the first-year experience, especially considering the fact that first-years frequently enroll in large introductory or Core courses.
With the exception of Expository Writing, most introductory and Core classes enroll hundreds of students, and lectures, not class discussions, are the dominant method of teaching. Even though many of these classes have small sections led by teaching fellows, these are not adequate replacements for the close student-Faculty interaction that such seminars provide.
Seminar-style courses for first-years would inject a human touch into a year where anonymity seems to be the common theme in all courses. Right now, only a quarter of the class gets to enjoy this hands-on learning experience in the Freshman Seminar Program, whether the subject is the medieval cathedral or the history of the Olympic Games.
However, as valuable as first-year seminars can be, we would be wary about turning them into requirements--first-years must already enroll in Expository Writing and fulfill their language requirement. One way for the majority of first-years to enroll in voluntary seminars would be to expand the existing seminar program dramatically. The seminars could also be offered as letter-graded courses, since many students are unlikely to choose the seminars if they continue to be offered as pass/fail electives that cannot count for department credit.
Expanding the program would also help accommodate more of the large numbers of first-year seminar applicants who are turned down every year. Currently, the selection process is an ordeal in itself, reminiscent of the college application procedure with its forms and interviews. Away from familiar comforts and routines, the last thing a newly arrived first-year needs is academic rejection.
Moving towards more personal interaction between professors and students is one of the University's professed goals. Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 has said the proposal remains "in the discussion stage." We encourage the College to give it serious consideration. The availability of seminar courses to all first-years would bring multiple benefits to the College and the first-years alike.
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