First-Year Seminar (FYS100) FAQs

First-Year Seminar Frequently Asked Questions (updated April 2019)


What is a First-Year Seminar at UWL? expanding section

The First-Year Seminar (FYS) at UWL is a course that is required of all first-year (entering) students, and transfer students with less than 30 credits, beginning in Fall 2020. The course provides an opportunity for students to explore a topic of shared interest to a faculty member and the students in the class, and to provide information and resources that will assist students in their transition to college/UWL. First-Year Seminars will be designed by faculty to engage students in enduring, meaningful questions that demonstrate the relevance and consequence of college level research. With no prerequisites or assumptions of prior knowledge on the subject, First-Year Seminars provide a unique occasion for students to explore a topic or ignite a passion that can inspire future academic work. First-Year Seminars also fulfill several of the purposes of General Education by developing collaborative learning skills, critical thinking and learning skills, and opportunities for meaningful writing.

First-Year Seminars will encourage students to consider the value and purpose of General Education, as well as their college education as a whole. Students will encounter an interesting research question on the backdrop of exploring academic and career opportunities, and considering metacognitive questions related to their college experience, including: what does it mean to learn? what is college trying to teach? and what factors will lead to increased success?

Why are First-Year Seminars being required? expanding section

The purpose of a required First-Year Seminar is to ensure that all students experience a high-impact practice in their first year at UWL as part of their general education. Research continues to show that first-year seminars are particularly effective and efficient at delivering high-impact practices to students early in their college careers. Orientation aspects of first-year seminars are proven to improve student retention rates. Academic aspects of first-year seminars have consistently been linked to higher student academic performance across all their classes (GPA) [i]. In the longer term, first-year seminars contribute to faster times to graduation and higher graduation rates. Because of these results, 90% of universities in the United States offer a first-year seminar, and over 50% require it of all their students [ii].

By combining academic content with resources and skills that help students adjust to college, first-year seminars provide students with a unique educational experience that is not usually available in other general education courses. One reason for this is that first-year seminars are exceptionally effective at developing students’ sense of belonging (both academic and social) because they provide opportunities to discover the relevance of learning, just-in-time resources to support student success, and a context for developing a relationship with faculty members with a shared area of interest.

[i] Jamelske, Eric, “Measuring the impact of a university first-year experience program on student GPA and retention,” Higher Education, 2009, issue 57, pp. 373-391.

[ii] Permzadian, Vahe, and Marcus Credé, “Do First-Year Seminars Improve College Grades and Retention? A Quantitative Review of Their Overall Effectiveness and an Examination of Moderators of Effectiveness,” Review of Educational Research, March 2016, Vol. 86, No. 1, pp. 277–316.

How will the First-Year Seminar be included in General Education requirements? expanding section

Starting in Fall 2020, 3 credits of the required 42 General Education credits will come from a First-Year Seminar. (During the pilot year 2019 the First-Year Seminar will count for 3 credits of the 48 credit GE total for those students who complete the course.)

Who gets to teach a First-Year Seminar? expanding section

Departments will nominate faculty to be "certified" to teach FYS courses. There is no limit to the number of faculty a department can nominate. The certification process will involve both online and live syllabus and teaching development. Once certified, faculty will be able to rotate in and out of instruction at the discretion of the Department. It will be up to Departments to determine when and how often each instructor can teach given the number of FYS slots the department has committed to offering.

How many sections of First-Year Seminar will be offered by each department? expanding section

Departments will determine how many sections they can offer, and this number will be confirmed as offerings are coordinated to meet the required number to reach every student. In order to meet demand, we will need to offer 75-90 sections of FYS each year divided between Fall and Spring semesters.

What does a typical First-Year Seminar look like? expanding section

Each first-year seminar is organized around a topic chosen by the instructor. The topic should be something the instructor is passionate about and relates to the instructor’s academic interests. Topics should also include an “enduring question,” which means that it offers potential for engaging students, relates to a "big idea" that has value beyond the classroom, involves "doing" the subject, and invites exploration of misunderstandings or common misconceptions. (Examples of topics offered at UWL can be found here).

The First-Year Seminar meets for two hours each week (either in two 55-minute sessions or one 1 hour 50-minute session). This time is used for instruction centered on the topic of the course, and on the learning outcomes of the course:

  1. Examine enduring questions and how they may be studied
  2. Participate effectively in class discussions and collaborative projects
  3. Employ strategies that contribute to success in college
  4. Explain the purposes and value of a liberal arts education

There is also an online component of the course that is shared across all sections of the First-Year Seminar. Accounting for 1-hour of contact time each week, and assignments totaling one-third of the course grade, this online portion of the course is referred to as the “Common Experience.” The Common Experience is a fully developed curriculum designed to complement the content of the seminar by building skills and knowledge that contribute to success in college. This component of the course is required in all sections to ensure that all students are experiencing the same lessons, and to build consistency across all sections of the course. Currently, the Common Experience includes the following modules (delivered throughout the semester on a schedule that is shared between all sections of the First-Year Seminar):

  1. Connections, involvement, and resources
  2. Belonging in college
  3. Skills for learning
  4. Understanding General Education
  5. Academic planning
  6. Financial literacy
  7. Final reflection
What are the common assignments in the Common Experience, and what are instructors’ responsibility for them? expanding section

The Common Experience (online component) of the First-Year Seminar contains learning content, activities, and a graded journal entry for each module. First-Year Seminar instructors are responsible for grading the journal assignments (submitted online in Canvas). A complete set of instructions for the journal assignments are provided for students, and training and instructions are provided to instructors for grading. The journal assignments are the primary way the First-Year Seminar will be assessed.

Will I be able to use a textbook when I teach a First-Year Seminar? expanding section

Beginning in 2020 the textbook rules that apply to all courses will apply to the First-Year Seminar. Given the learning goals of the First-Year Seminar, instructors are encouraged to use course materials that are accessible to all students. Instructors are also encouraged to utilize publicly available and open-source material as much as possible. Introductory textbooks should be avoided.

How will students be enrolled in the First-Year Seminar? expanding section

First-Year Seminars will be clustered according to thematic focus (determined by the instructors of the Seminars). Prior to summer registration, entering students will receive a survey asking for their preference of course theme, and students will be pre-enrolled in Seminars according to their preferences prior to their registration date. For spring semester, students will self-enroll in a FYS course along with their other course choices. 

Will specific sections be offered for students in particular majors or programs? expanding section

No. Designed to be a truly “general” education course, the First-Year Seminar is delivered separately from any declared major, program, or College. The First-Year Seminar functions as a way for students to explore a topic joined by students from across the University. The enrichment this provides for students offers an opportunity to broaden their educational experiences beyond the cohorts that form through declared majors and clustered program requirements. If a department, program, or College wants to develop a first-year experience course as a separate requirement from the FYS that would be specific to their students, they are free to do so. 

First-Year Seminars being offered in Fall 2019 expanding section
  • Irresistible: The Psychology of Addictive Technology
  • Don't Believe Everything You Think: Battling Bias, Misinformation, and Pseudoscience
  • Taking the Mystery Out of Biotech
  • Art & Community
  • Trivial Pursuits: Discovering & Defining Ourselves through Trivia Questions and Contests
  • So You Think You Can Say That?: Law vs. Myth in Campus Speech Rights
  • Debunking Myths and Stereotypes: An Exploration of Poverty in the US
  • In Pursuit of a Compassionate Education: Why College Teaches You to Care
  • Sex and Rock n' Roll
  • Fake news: Making sense of media and politics
  • Dragonflies and dog walkers: Coexisting in urban wetlands
  • Views of Nature
  • Migration Stories: Past-Present Connections
  • Our Stuff: Design, Sustainability and Craftsmanship in the Age of Ikea
  • Living on the Edge: Organisms in Extreme Environments
  • Teen Shakespeare
  • Time Wasted or Well Spent?: Leisure in the New Millennium
  • Reading between the Tweets: Using Literature and Culture to Decode Today's News Cycle
  • Dope Sick: Consequences of the Failed War on Drugs
  • Nature Art
  • Sustainable Eating and Living in an Unsustainable Age
  • Great Cities: Redesigning How Humans Converge