First-Year Experience

Bringing Theory to Practice Whole Student Proposal

The U-Course project represents a thoroughgoing rethinking of first-year curriculum, both in terms of content and pedagogy.  In the case of the pilot pair of American Government and Academic Writing, the instructors have already worked closely together to design assignment sequences that embed the kind of reflection activities we hypothesize are crucial to making the link between personal and social responsibility explicit.  Embedding writing in the course provides the opportunity for deeper exploration, through writing, of the content of the course.  On the composition side, it provides a content-rich focus for research and writing often absent from such courses. 

Perhaps more important is the pedagogical approach taken here.  The design of this project arises from principles of learning in current learning research (principles which also inform our successful public sphere work): learning occurs through and is reinforced by socially meaningful work; learning via lectures is, for novice learners, best accompanied by active components that allow the learner to share, test, and revise understandings and apply new learning to intriguing problems; learning depends on participation in communities of practice formed by novice, slightly more advanced and expert learners (students, peer mentors and professors); mentoring by more experienced students provides better depth of understanding of course concepts while simultaneously providing new students with successful college student role models.  While the process of forming a moral code may be a personal matter, it is also one that is eminently social: based on appropriate role models, collective action among peers and others and in community generally.  It is this dialectic between the personal and the collective that merits increased exploration and attention in the formation of ethical thought and behavior.

Everything about the U-Course experience is designed to challenge the students’ concepts of “school,” academics, the purposes of education and themselves as learners.  What we are seeking is no less than a reframing of the educational enterprise from one based on surviving (enduring?) the K-12 experience, to one that places the learners in the educational enterprise, creating a community of learners based on mutual respect, trust, responsibility and a keen sense of the common good. In other words, this is a learning environment that models the qualities we wish to see in our students and graduates.