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The benefits of uncertainty

School starts on Monday, and with it comes a brand new set of graduation requirements for all first year students. The new requirement that most affects me is the required Argument and Inquiry seminars that all first year students take in their first term at college, and this seminar includes the first cross-curricular mandatory information literacy requirement we’ve ever had.

Obviously I’d think this is a good thing. But what I hadn’t realized was what I’d find most good about this good thing: the major pay-off of this new requirement may be the conversations I’ve had with several faculty in the last couple of months as they develop their A&I seminars for this fall. Just the fact that the seminars are new and that they’re a little intimidating to teach means that we’ve felt at liberty to completely mess with “normal.”

“What if we do away with the ‘library class,'” I ask, and they don’t look at me like I’m growing horns. They say, “What would that look like?”

Another professor came to see if I thought she was completely bonkers for wanting me to come in 4 or 5 times for 15-20 minutes each rather than just once, and I could say “Not at all! Here are the kinds of ways we’re doing that with these other classes.”

And these are professors I’ve never worked with before and professors I’ve worked with consistently over the years — creative and thoughtful professors, all — but it feels totally different because we’re both pretty uncertain about how we’ll make these seminars work. We’re brainstorming and upending the status quo with wild abandon, and nothing feels taboo. And sometimes we settle back on a format similar to the more normal class: assignment-specific instruction for 50 minutes. But when we do, we do so with more confidence that this format suites the course’s learning goals rather than just being What We’ve Done Before.

Published inFirst Year StudentsTeaching and Learning


  1. This is so good to hear. We’re doing something similar at Saint Mary’s College: new required first-year seminars (where no first-year seminar existed before) that have information literacy as one of their outcomes. I am going to be working very, very hard with both the faculty who will be teaching them, and the librarians who will be assigned as “consultants” to specific seminars, to break out of the “research paper –> library class” model of IL instruction. I fear that the gravitational pull of that model is stronger here than at your college, but I’m still hoping to achieve escape velocity.

  2. The librarians here have spent the last couple of years thinking about this transition (particularly last year), so if you want to look at any of our materials just let me know. They might be too site-specific, but you never know.

    I hope it goes really well for you! I’m pleased with our transition so far (though also still pretty nervous about implementing it). What I’m really curious to know is how it will actually affect students.

  3. Megan B Megan B

    We are just rolling out a new first-year seminar program at MPOW and the folks in my department are really excited to figure out how to be part of it in many of the ways you mention.

    P.S. I’m happy you’re blogging “the mundane” again, because the mundane is also the everyday, and we can all reconsider how we do the everyday from time to time.

  4. Thanks Megan. :-)

    And it sounds like the three of us should compare notes through this process.

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