Augustana’s New Calendar and First Year Seminar
Posted on October 18, 2017 by Tia Lalani
By Karsten Mündel Starting the 2017-18 academic year, the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus has embarked on two exciting initiatives as it plays its role in the University of Alberta’s strategic plan For the Public Good to be “a living laboratory for teaching and learning innovation, to the benefit of the entire university.” The first initiative …
By Karsten Mündel
Starting the 2017-18 academic year, the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus has embarked on two exciting initiatives as it plays its role in the University of Alberta’s strategic plan For the Public Good to be “a living laboratory for teaching and learning innovation, to the benefit of the entire university.” The first initiative was rearranging the academic schedule into a new calendar, or what is colloquially called “3-11”. Each term now consists of a three-week session in which students take one three-credit course followed by an 11-week session in which students take four additional three-credit courses. We have also used this academic rhythm to offer an innovative course for all new students—the First Year Seminar—to facilitate the transition from high school to university in a way that is academically engaging and rigorous.
Augustana offered 13 sections of its First Year Seminar (FYS) class on topics as diverse as sports media, zombies, cyborgs, myths, wolves, and cryptozoology. Through serious interdisciplinary exploration of these topics, students came to realize that university study can be as engaging as it is challenging, right from the start.
“The seminar class is ‘about’ zombies. But that’s not really what it’s about. The class was about bigger ideas,” said one of our current first-year students. “This class has been a challenge because I don’t love writing. With my classmates and friends inspire me to achieve at the same level as them, I have managed to work on my writing.”
Through partnership between teaching faculty and the library, writing centre and student life units at Augustana, students were oriented to both the academic and social aspects of university in the first days of their arrival on campus. For example, all first-year students attended a session on consent delivered by Keith Edwards, a sexual violence prevention speaker and educator. In many of the FYS sections, students then made connections between course themes and sexual violence, bringing together the academic and personal growth we know takes place in the four or five years students are on our campus right at the beginning of their programs.
The assessment process in place to measure students’ achievement of course learning objectives (with an emphasis on academic skills acquisition) in FYS shows that students rose to the challenge and demonstrated to themselves and to the faculty that they are capable of producing great work. These courses were also an opportunity for our faculty to stretch out of the narrow confines of their disciplines; many developed new approaches to teaching. “I am a natural cynic and not given to hyperbole, but for me, this has been the best teaching experience of my career,” noted fine arts and humanities chair and music professor Alex Carpenter at a recent focus group on the FYS experience. Many FYS instructors have indicated that their participation in the FYS course has encouraged them to be more student-centred in how they teach the rest of their courses.
Augustana’s returning students have also completed their first three-week session in which they took courses including field studies in environmental science and ecology, women and environmental literature, existentialism, topics in geometry, and a collaborative history research seminar. Some of these courses, such as the field studies course at the UofA Augustana Campus’ Miquelon Research Station, are an obvious fit for the three-week terms. Students and professors Glynnis Hood and Glen Hvenegaard were able to put on their hip waders and work on undergraduate research projects while living out at the research station for the duration of the session. Other courses, such as the women and environmental literature course, are less obvious fits for this compressed schedule, but still worked exceptionally well. Professor Roxanne Harde took her students on two field trips to complement the literary theory and literature her students were exposed to in class—trips facilitated by the three-week schedule—including a visit to a farm committed to environmental principles and witnessing falcons being flown by Albertan falconers at a local conservation area. For students in associate professor Mélanie Méthot’s history research seminar, they started their six credit history capstone course with intensity during the three-week session, when there was no competition for students’ time, and are now following that research in the 11-week session as students complete their senior history projects.
All of Augustana Campus’ students are now settled into their 11-week sessions. Those taking a typical full load are now enrolled in four courses. We anticipate that come November (and March in the second semester) our students will be a bit less stressed because assignments are only due in four classes rather than five as was the case previously. As a faculty, we look forward to continuing to grow into the new academic rhythms and creating new and meaningful learning opportunities for our students.
Karsten Mündel is Associate Dean Academic, Associate Professor of Global and Development Studies, and Director of the Learning~Advising~Beyond office at Augustana. His current research focusses on place-based learning and the broader learning environment at the Augustana Campus.
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