Literacy, thinking, teamwork are goals of new, required UWRF course

Posted November 27, 2015

Beginning in the fall of 2016, new students at UW-River Falls with majors in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) will be required to take an additional course.

First Year Adventure (College of Arts and Sciences 101) was approved at the Nov. 4 Faculty Senate meeting after passing through various committees since September. The class will be required for incoming freshmen and transfer students with less than 30 credits majoring in a program within CAS. Students with majors in the other colleges within UWRF and minors in CAS will not have to take the course.

Tricia Davis, associate dean of CAS, said that the class can be thought of as a kind of seminar. Faculty can choose their own topics to teach, as long as the topics meet the learning outcomes. Davis included “First Year Adventure: Activism 101” as an example in an information release to CAS faculty and staff.

Three learning outcomes are outlined for the course: information literacy, critical thinking and constructive teamwork. The goals are based off of the Liberal Education and America’s Promise initiative from the Association of American Colleges & Universities.

Cynthia Kernahan, professor of psychology, is one of the faculty members who worked over the summer to develop the course. She said that she’s particularly interested in what helps students learn.

“We really looked at the literature to look at, ‘What do students need in that first year that will keep them on campus?’ because we need them to stay, but also because it’s better for them if they stay,” Kernahan said.

Applications will be sent out to UWRF faculty and staff allowing them to apply to teach the course, and the decisions will be made before the release of the fall course catalog in February. Davis said that in deciding who will teach the sections, a lot of factors will be considered.

“We’re going to look for faculty that have high impact, that have energy, that have great ideas, good teaching evaluations,” Davis said. “All those kind of things are going to impact who we select to teach the courses.”

Kernahan said that she spent time this summer thinking about which topic she would cover and decided that she’d like to teach a section focusing on social class. She said that First Year Adventure offers faculty a chance to do something different.

“I think it’s a good opportunity to work with freshmen around something that you’re really passionate about,” Kernahan said. “It’s a way to develop a whole new course on something you don’t do, and I hope students will love it.”

Faculty may be able to teach more than one section of the course, depending on how many people apply and what kind of topic proposals are received. New students will be able to choose which section to take during registration. Davis said that approximately 16 sections will be taught in the fall and four in the spring, holding no more than 25 students each. The class will be worth three credits.

In the 2013-2014 academic year, CAS had the lowest retention rates of UWRF’s four colleges with just over 51 percent of students remaining in the same program, according to the Office of Institutional Research.

Davis said that she hopes the new course will positively impact retention rates because first-year students will be able to make more meaningful friendships and connections within the college.

“Those students are able to connect with the faculty more, on a personal level, because of the kind of questions that are being asked and explored in the class,” Davis said.

Davis said that this course may be the first of several changes to the college before the end of this academic year, but nothing has been decided yet.