We’ve nearly finished the first term of the new first year seminars, and I’ve worked with a whole bunch of them now, and they’ve all been totally different. Sure, they’re all required to give students practice finding, evaluating, and using information, but just as we suspected, there are lots and lots of ways to work those things into a course. Some courses have taught The Research Paper, others have concentrated on teaching students to build context for what they’re reading and hearing in class.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, though, it’s been that I am not there to teach the students how to find, evaluate, and use information. I tried that with a couple of courses, and it failed. Miserably.
No, I’m there to do two things: to give the students a couple of skills they need right now, and to spark their imaginations about what could be possible if they decided to make a habit of this research stuff.
This clicked for me the other day when I thought about what it would look like if the college decided that all first year students have a foreign language component in their first year seminar, or a biology component, or a stats component. The guest lecturer from French or Bio or Econ would never be expected to teach French or Bio or stats in half an hour or an hour. Instead, they’d get the students interested in their fields of study by providing just enough basic knowledge to make some interesting, higher order process make sense, and then they’d concentrate on making that higher order process interesting and engaging for the rest of the half hour or hour.
You can’t inoculate students in one easy session and expect that now they know French.
Note to self: There’s no way to teach it all, anyway, so think harder about things that are both practical and imagination-sparking, and then teach those things more consistently. These students like to be intellectually engaged — that’s why they’re here — so go with that. Be a guest lecturer.