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Liberal Learning Seminars introduce new curriculum for 1st year students

By Victoria Staples
On March 22, 2011

Ever want to take a course that piques your interest -- just by the title, such as "Pop Culture" and "Deeper Than Rap"?

Now you can by enrolling in a Liberal Learning Seminar.

The Academic Standards and Curriculum committee approved the deletion of the freshman seminar requirement effective May 16.

Provost Brenda Allen began working with the task force October 2009 to continue the general education curriculum reform.

Liberal Learning Seminars are a part of the General Education Task Force mission of curriculum reform.

Allen said that LLS are designed to offer first-year students a unique experience with small class sizes that will form an intimate relationship with a faculty member and a cohort of students.

When Allen provided the opportunity in the Spring 2010 semester, some faculty members submitted proposals to teach a LLS. That summer, the faculty participated in a three-week series of workshops to develop new courses.

 "It [the workshop] was a wonderful experience because it gave you a chance to really focus on one thing and develop it from start to finish," said Michael Brookshaw, an associate professor in the English and Foreign Languages Department.

About 12 LLS were offered for the Fall 2010 semester, and 20 LLS were offered this semester.

The summer workshops also covered high impact practices which focus on how to improve student engagement in the classroom.

"Liberal Learning Seminars, writing across the curriculum, having more hands-on research, integrating the classroom and service learning are high impact practices," Allen said.

Allen and several faculty members, conducted some of the workshops.

"Whether your seminar was going to be writing intensive or quantitative skills, we wanted the entire faculty [teaching LLS] to go through all the workshops because there were different things that they could add," Allen said.

"Workshops are really about pedagogy."

Allen said Appalachian State University and Wake Forest University have first-year seminar programs that are writing and critical thinking intensive.

WSSU seminars often target questions or areas of study that encourage direct research and hands-on experiences, and the students get to be active participants, Allen said.

Allen said most campuses target one or two outcomes, but LLS targets seven learning outcomes in the curriculum: Written Communication; Oral Communication; Critical Thinking; Critical Reading; Scientific Literacy; Quantitative Literacy; and Information Literacy.

She said intensive writing and critical thinking skills are the highest priority outcomes at WSSU.

First-year seminar programs can be in any subject, but they have to focus on the learning outcomes, Allen said.

For example, "Cinema for Global Culture" is a three-credit hour Liberal Learning course that examines the cinema of 15 different countries.

"We take a movie, we screen the movie, and we do research in terms of finding the appropriate reviews for the movie," Brookshaw said.

"Someone has to present the movie, ask prescreening questions to make the connection between the real-world experience and the world of the movie."

Courses in LLS are not "traditional." There are no tests or quizzes administered and the seminars are assessment-based [instructor and self-assessments], project-based, and incorporate hands-on interaction and group work.

"I stopped instructing after the third week," said Fred-Rick Roundtree, an instructor in the English and Foreign Languages Department. "The students have been peer teaching and I assess their work."

Roundtree, is teaching of the Pop Culture course, for a second time this year.

The LLS are all three-credit courses that count toward the general education requirements.

According to Allen, the LLS are one of the best practices for retention of first-year students.

Other LLS includes: "Bring the Noise," "You Are What You Eat," "AIDS In Society," "Unsolved North Carolina Mysteries," and "Blame It On The Boogie."


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