Wednesday, September 25, 2013
The Liberal Arts Sampler Plate
I think the "getting to know each other/the system" part was helpful across the board, even for those of us who knew were sure (at the time) that we knew what we wanted to do. As it turned out, I changed my major several times, and I often thought back to that seminar when making that choice. Go for it.
The only thing that I would think would be different at a community college is that most presenters (if they were faculty) would be talking about work that they used to do, or that others are doing, instead of their own active projects, which is a little less exciting. But, it is still worth it to get students to know the faculty, I think.
There were 300+ students in the seminar, and this was the mid '90s, if that makes a difference.
I'm saying all of this not to object to the general idea you propose (our intro to the major course does similar work, but we ultimately rejected the idea of having instructors from each of the subfields come in for the reasons that I list above), but I think these are issues you'd need to identify and address before getting to the point of a pilot.
Which is a shame, because there's a lot that's involved in being part of a faculty in an institution of higher learning that defies quantification: serving on a committee (provided there are only a few), attending a research workshop, advising a student, coordinating the book and journal subscriptions with the librarian, or participating in an interdisciplinary freshman seminar.
Probably off topic in this thread, but I'd love to hear more about how this "option" structure works because I see it as very desirable when trying to get students on track so they don't waste time and credits on non-essential classes.
And our math people would be totally jealous that you can teach linear algebra and discrete math as lower division CC classes. How did you swing that? !?!
In answer to your question:
Because we only have a single degree, we have your problem on a large scale and deal with it (to some extent) by having a course that is a mix of career info like you describe and advising to help ease the transition to college. Our advising task would be much easier if we had the neat tracks you have for the STEM majors. Ours are mixed in with everyone else.
As a student, I would have hated, hated, hated the enforced show & tell quality of such a class, and the necessary shallowness of such an approach. I would have been disappointed to see that this is what college was like (actually, we probably agree that it isn't what college is/should be like, but if this is going to be a mandatory first-year experience, well, yuck is all I can say).
Also, I think the "success" of such an approach would be even more heavily dependent than usual on the personal charisma or edutainment abilities of the professors who participated. In that regard, it is sort of boutique-y. Maybe it works ok when you have a small group of cheerleader professors, but is it sustainable when you scale it up?
That said, I see the very real problem you are trying to address. More later - I'm off to teach a gen ed class now.
Additionally, a lot of people going to community colleges don't have enough experience to know what they want to do, as a function of age/maturity or just a point in their life (maybe they started or left a family unexpectedly, or something else happened and they're just floating for the moment).
Perhaps it would be harder but more appropriate to request that gen-ed course teachers include some elements of "introducing the options" during the semester, and follow up with a campus-wide "career fair" style introduction to majors/career pathways?
Frankly, I don't think a single course is likely to impart academic clarity to most of those students, for reasons others have listed (too broad/shallow, many students will change their minds anyway, etc.).
Speaking as a career counselor, I think that if you want students to get a better sense of what they might want to study, have them take a required academic and career discernment course. With this course, you can help them articulate their interests (I guarantee that students have interests, even if they don't know their major or future job) and help them understand which academic programs and experiences might provide a path for them. Have them do informational interviewing, write about it and present it to the class. They'll gain valuable information and skills that will be useful in their academic and professional career.
As a career services person (and a liberal arts product myself), I see a lot of knee-jerk negative reaction in the media to "useless" liberal arts degrees. The issue isn't that they're useless--the issue is that students don't know how to apply them appropriately to their life after college and/or articulate the value to others. Any efforts your institution can make to link student interests and goals to the liberal arts will help them in their academic career.
lectures on the theme from their disciplines perspective- so every student works with one instructor over the semester on reading/writing stuff, but is getting lectures from others, so being invited to think about other approaches. And ideally, those lectures tied to some common reading. (In the CC context, the lectures might be recorded.)
You could also have advertising displays somewhere in your advising center for students to look at while they're waiting for their turn. It would have to be done well, but it could be.
The course just seems to be begging for people not to take it seriously. Although there are certainly plenty of people who don't really know what they want to study, there are very few who have no idea what they don't want to study, and forcing them to sit through all of that for an entire semester is pretty harsh. It's bad enough getting students to sit for an hour to take a math or English placement test.
The best aspects of my own liberal arts education had these kinds of places where different disciplines dealt with these topics, but it would have been fun to get some of those conversations happening in the same place. I'm sure there are other possibilities for other topics that would make sense. I suspect it'd also be good to see the arts incorporated more- there's an article out there about interdisciplinary studies that mentions a first year seminar on "fear" that mixes up neuroscience and film studies, among others... it sounded fun and interesting. I think giving things a topical theme can give some coherence, and really highlight what "liberal arts" can do.