Next week, I give final exams. This leads to a massive grading frenzy, when I’m grading over 100 exams in less than a week (still beats what I did as a grad student when I had roughly 200 essay exams to grade–all handwritten; at least these will all be typed). It’s a time to evaluate how well the students learned the information, as well as how well the first-year students are adapting to the academic challenges of college life.
One thing I have been able to do the past few years is teach all of our incoming History and Political Science majors in the first half U.S. history survey, and occasionally the first-year seminar. It is quite enlightening teaching these new students, especially our majors. I can often tell during the first couple of weeks that some will succeed, some will struggle, and some will fall by the wayside. The apocryphal story, “look to your right, look to your left, one of you won’t be here next year” in some cases is true. In my case, the main problem that I am encountering is that quite a few of these students really aren’t ready for college-level work–or at least what I remember college-level work to be back in the dark ages when I was an undergraduate (you know, the old days–BC, or before computers).
So, rather than throw my hands up in frustration (and go off and sulk in the corner of the room), I’m going to try a new approach next year. My university just adopted a new General Education program that will be implemented in Fall 2011, and one part of it will include a three-credit First Year Seminar (that will replace the current one-credit course). It will be an academic course with “teeth”–research assignments, paper writing, book reviews, film critiques, critical thinking exercises and activities–in addition to the standard “help students adapt to college life” curriculum.
Now, here is the part where I would like people to chime in: What do you remember about your freshman year in college? What advice would you give to a new college student (or, if you are a parent, what do you wish your child/children knew before he/she/they started college)? What do you suggest I include in this new course to help the new college students better succeed? To help you out on this quest: the theme for the course will be Pathways to the Past (after all, I am an historian–what else would you expect?).
And let the games begin…