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First-Year Seminars Faculty FAQs

What is a First-Year Seminar (FYS)?

First-Year Seminars (FYS) provide entering students the excitement of engaged learning through a diverse array of seminar topics.  With small classes, a variety of topics, and close contact with faculty, First-Year Seminars offer a hands-on introduction to academic inquiry and the modes of expression that lie at the heart of a liberal arts education.  They foster habits of mind fundamental to students' intellectual and academic development, including critical reading and thinking, sharing ideas and research through discussion, and the ability to write and think clearly and effectively.  Integrating explorations of specific questions and topics with the development of skills, seminars aim to foster intellectual curiosity and students' ability to act on it.

What are the goals of the FYS?

The FYS has five common goals:

  • to expand students' understanding of the world
  • to enhance their ability to read and think critically
  • to enhance their ability to communicate effectively, in writing, speech, and other
    appropriate forms
  • to develop the fundamentals of information literacy and library research
  • to provide the opportunity for students to work closely with a faculty mentor

The first and last goals will, we hope, be met by the small size of the seminars and the opportunity to select topics from a wide range of options.  Courses with an international focus, emphasis on cultural context, or community-based learning component offer some opportunities for the kind of expanded understanding envisioned in the first goal, but these two goals are also central to a student's entire four years at the university.  The middle three goals focus on the skills all seminars will develop; faculty may supplement the three middle goals with additional goals specific to their particular seminar. Detailed FYS guidelines outline our approach to incorporating these goals into specific seminars.

I've never taught writing or communication before.  Can I still teach a FYS?

Yes. Academics know effective writing in their fields of study when they read it. This program will develop our ability to create and evaluate assignments that will foster the development of effective writing among students in courses linked to our professional lives and interests. All faculty new to FYS--whether or not they have expertise in writing and communication--will participate in a series of 75-minute workshops during the academic year as well as intensive training in the FYS Summer Institute (three days in May and one day in August). Workshops are led by veteran FYS instructors and academic support staff; they cover a wide range of FYS-related topics from how to lead a discussion to understanding the academic needs of international students. The Institute is where new FYS faculty transform their course proposal into a finished syllabus while becoming acquainted with recent developments in writing and communication pedagogy and sharing their expertise with a cohort of faculty from across campus. All faculty will also have the opportunity to work closely with Writing and Speech Consultants during the course of their teaching.

I've been teaching first-year students my whole professional life. Do I still need to participate in the workshops and the summer institute?

Yes. The workshops and institutes are both a learning experience and a community-building opportunity. FYS instructors will form learning communities out of the workshops and institutes. Your expertise will be invaluable to others in your workshop as we share strategies, skills, opportunities and challenges in teaching the FYS.

What kind of support is there for FYS instructors?

In the first year, FYS instructors will receive a $500 stipend for participating in the workshops, a $1000 stipend for the summer institute, and another $500 stipend for their first offering of the FYS course.  We anticipate that this kind of support will continue to be available for first-time FYS instructors on a continuing basis; however, additional stipends over and above salary will not be available for returning FYS instructors.  The FYS committee and a variety of other campus resources, including but not limited to the Writing and Speech Centers, the Academic Skills Center, the PETE committee, and the CTLT will provide ongoing support for FYS instructors, as will the faculty learning communities that develop out of the workshops and institutes.

What kinds of topics can I propose for an FYS?

The FYS program is an opportunity to be creative and investigate a research interest or a topic only partly developed in a regular course. Faculty are given latitude in the topics they can teach for a first-year seminar as long as the course can meet 1) the goals of FYS, 2) the work required of students equivalent to 10-14 hours per week (justifying one unit), and 3) the qualification of a faculty member to teach subject matter in their own field or a related area.

What constitutes a related area?

FYS courses provide several opportunities for faculty to teach new and innovative courses on a variety of topics. Past FYS courses may be characterized by one or more of the following:

  1. Topics taught in the faculty member's discipline, but not part of their department's current curriculum,
  2. Topics that explore a related discipline in a faculty member's area of expertise,
  3. Topics that are team taught with a colleague in another discipline or with an interdisciplinary perspective,
  4. Topics that explore a new creative area in, or related to, a faculty member's field of expertise or scholarly focus, and
  5. Topics taught outside a faculty member's current teaching field, if you have expertise in that area.

Faculty who wish to pursue related areas should contact the FYS Coordinator to discuss their qualifications for teaching those topics.

What do you mean by "expertise" and how does this qualify me to teach an FYS course?

Expertise means evidence of professional and/or academic work in an area related to the topic of study that faculty are hired to teach. We recognize that every faculty member has a unique background that is often broader than his or her discipline or area of scholarly and creative expertise. An area of expertise should be evident in your curriculum vita through, for example, conference attendance or presentations, book chapters, publications, or reviews. These decisions are made on a case by case basis. If you have any questions about the appropriateness of a topic or what is appropriate expertise, please contact the FYS Coordinator.

Can I adapt my existing course into a FYS?

Maybe. In general, broad surveys intended to introduce students to a field of study will not adapt well into an FYS, which requires focused inquiry into a (perhaps interdisciplinary) topic. That said, if after reading the proposal guidelines and this FAQ you can imagine an FYS that incorporates materials and approaches from an existing course, please feel free to propose it. Some proposals may require further refinement to bring them in line with the guidelines.

What is the difference between a FYS and any other seminar I might teach?

The FYS is designed to introduce students to college-level work.  As such, it has a heavier emphasis on skills development (critical reading and thinking, communication, basic research) than on disciplinary content.  While it does require research, it need not require a seminar paper at the end; other projects may be more appropriate for the FYS.

Can my FYS be offered for General Education credit?

No. By action of the faculty on October 8, 2009, for students entering the University in 2010-11 and later, taking two FYS courses will substitute for the general education requirements previously satisfied by the Core course, English 103 and Library 100/101, but FYS courses may not be used to satisfy any other general education requirements, including field of study requirements.

Can my FYS be offered for major credit?

Maybe. Determination of credit for majors, minors, and certificate programs is the province of the relevant department, program or school. As noted above, an FYS should not be a broad survey course intended to introduce students to a field of study, nor should it emphasize expertise--it should not, therefore, be identical to either an introduction to a major or an upper-division requirement within a major.

I've had great success using community-based learning in my courses. Can I incorporate it into my FYS?

Yes. There will be opportunities to work with the Center for Civic Engagement to develop CBL in FYS.

Can I propose a team-taught FYS?

Yes. Please include information on both instructors in your proposal, and check in with both departments to ensure that their scheduling needs can still be met. Team-taught courses "count" as a full unit of teaching for each faculty member.

How will the FYS be assessed?

FYS instructors will submit student evaluations of instruction at the end of each semester that they teach an FYS. In addition, the FYS, like all other programs, is assessed programmatically. Four learning outcomes, drawn directly from the common goals of FYS, are assessed regularly; these are “Written Communication,” “Oral Communication,” “Critical Thinking,” and “Information Literacy.” Faculty are randomly selected to assess two of the four learning outcomes for a selected assignment(s) in their FYS.

At the beginning and near the end of each semester, the Office of Institutional Effectiveness contacts faculty to alert them of the assessment plan and to provide them with the rubrics for each outcome that they must use to evaluate student work. At the end of the semester, faculty submit an assessment report that records the number of students whose assignments either “exceeds expectations,” “meets expectations,” or “fails to meet expectations” according to criteria in each of the rubrics. Aggregate data for all sections of FYS is compiled in a year-end report available to all FYS faculty. Although the reporting is focused on the program level outcomes, results from each section can be used by instructors to make course level changes as well.

What kind of research projects are appropriate for my FYS?

Because the FYS is incorporating the information literacy goals of the former Library 100 and 101, all students will participate in workshops on information literacy in the course of their FYS, and faculty will have the opportunity to work closely with their library liaisons each semester to develop research projects that introduce students to the fundamentals of library research in the discipline or topic area of the course.

In general, research projects will focus on an understanding of the research process, including how to determine different types of information needs, and how to evaluate and use information effectively and ethically in any format. A research paper is not required, but may be effective in in teaching the research process, especially when bringing students through several stages of research toward a final paper or presentation. Other types of research projects include literature reviews, bibliographic essays, and individual reports from student-led “fieldwork” or other methods of data collection. While one research assignment is required of all FYS courses, assigning a final paper of more than 15 pages as the only assignment to fulfill the writing and research requirements is strongly discouraged.