First-year seminars, envisioned by designers of the Plan for the Class of 2000 to develop analytical and critical-thinking skills, debut this fall for the entire freshman class.
Part of the basic requirements for graduation, the newly-created seminars will be taught in small classes with about 15 students in each. Sixty-three classes, covering 58 topics, are scheduled for the fall and spring.
Fourteen of the classes will be taught in new seminar rooms installed in three freshman residence halls–Bostwick, Johnson and Collins.
Paul N. Orser, associate dean of the College and dean of freshmen, said that the seminars are a popular addition to the class schedule.
“I just came back from receptions with freshmen and their families in Boston, Raleigh, Charlotte and Atlanta and the overwhelming response is that students and their parents are excited about these topics and the first-year seminars,” Orser said.
During the summer, freshmen listed their top seminar choices and classes were assigned from those lists. Students will learn their seminar topic when they meet with their advisers.
The start of seminars follows a successful pilot last year and extensive preparations that began last year.
The focus on small classes and rigorous discussion is evident in William K. Meyers’s spring 1997 seminar, “The Twentieth Century World,” which will use LotusNotes groupware to circulate background materials so students spend more class time discussing the political, economic and social forces that have shaped the 20th century, and the personalities, events and trends characterizing its history.
“For most people as they come into college, the courses they have taken either in history, politics or literature have often been arranged chronologically,” said Meyers, associate professor of history. “Therefore, the very century they have been born in gets covered in the last 10 days or two weeks.
“We will examine, in much greater depth, more contemporary events like the end of the Cold War, the emergence and rapid development of new technologies, the science which seems to solve everything but is baffled by AIDS, and terrorism, which is a whole new political phenomenon people don’t know how to deal with,” he said.
“How do these changes impact someone who grows up in the Islamic world, someone who grows up in China, Latin America, Africa, and how does that compare with how they are impacting students here at Wake Forest?” Meyers said. “I hope we can get more involved not just in the asking, but in the answering, writing and articulating. As a historian, I want students to learn they are living through a historical period.”
The objective in another seminar, “The Economist’s Way of Thinking,” taught by Provost David G. Brown, is to teach that college is a place where students can not only learn the diverse concepts and thinking of various professions but also practice applying these unique models so that they can decide which concepts they wish to guide their lives.
“Nine concepts used by economists are learned, partly by writing essays which relate the concepts to daily newspaper articles about the arts,” Brown said. “Using computers, students help each other before a final essay is submitted for grading. The best student essays, as determined by members of the class, will be published in a journal on the Internet.
“Student collaboration is stressed,” he said. “In person, and over the network while in class, students will provide feedback to both the professor and other students.” Brown said that students will also interview several professionals in fields outside of economics, and at least two artists will meet with the class.
Seminar topics were determined last year when faculty were invited to submit seminar proposals to their department chairs, who forwarded their recommendations to the First-Year Seminar Committee. The committee reviewed the proposals–in many cases requesting clarification and additional information–before submitting its approved list to the Curriculum Committee for final action.
About 70 proposals were submitted, and last April, nearly all of the faculty with proposals attended a special “Seminar on First-Year Seminars” to exchange ideas and learn from colleagues with experience in the format. “I heard a lot of faculty members say, `I have always wanted to teach this,'” Orser said.
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