Phase I is primarily about creating a seminar culture that’s centered on critical thinking, intellectual courage, cognitive diversity, collaboration, all toward handling complexity and ambiguity.
Culture matters. In the business world they’re fond of saying that culture eats strategy for lunch. We can have the best course design possible, but it is destined for frustration and failure if we don’t establish a pattern of shared basic assumptions (Schein, 2004) about the meaning of these concepts.
How? There’s no easy answer. But as you think about and plan for your first week, there are some simple steps you can take to get the ball rolling:
Develop relationships. Teaching is a lot like leading. Leadership in the 21st century serves to build resilient teams capable of creativity despite ambiguity. It’s a lot like what we’re striving for in our learning objectives. And many modern leadership scholars say that leading is foremost about forming relationships among collaborators toward mutual or shared purpose. (I wrote about FYS as a leadership laboratory late last fall.)
Introduce yourself as a member of the relationship. If you present yourself as an irrefutable expert on all things – and spend a lot of time lecturing the students on precisely how your class is going to work – they will find your words about collaboration and comfort with ambiguity quite hollow.
(Hint: knowing their names is not enough – they should know each other’s name as well!)
Be enthusiastic about your own learning. There’s not a year that goes by that I don’t learn something from my students. I tell the seminar this so they know I’m not the keeper of knowledge from which they’ll learn. It’s a shared journey.
Emphasize rigor. Rigor, meaning “actively learning meaningful content with higher order thinking" (Draeger, Hill, and Mahler, 2014). It’s important to dispel any notions of FYS as a lark or irrelevant extension of orientation.
Choose activities and assignments that reinforce the notion of rigor. I’m not suggesting that you abandon ice-breaking activities, but I want you to know and share with your students how they relate to the learning objectives (or the culture conducive to the learning objectives)
I think the Roadmaps and Milestones project is a great set of activities toward this end. You could also work together to develop a social and assessment contract, or you could have them define critical thinking, complexity, or the the learning outcomes.
The key is maintaining – so your words have meaning – a student-centered effort.