First-Year Experience

Student Success Grant from the Chancellor’s Office of the CSU - U-Courses: Learning by Design

Description of Prior Efforts to First-Year Students Increase First-Year Students’ Academic Engagement

To increase student engagement with the first-year curriculum, we embedded several constructed public spheres in required first-year courses: American government in Political Science, public speaking and small group communication classes in Communication Studies, a jumbo written composition section for first-generation students, and the macro-analysis course in Economics (two sections).  Embedding a public sphere near the end of a standard research-and-writing sequence in these classes provides students with a socially meaningful purpose for completing course assignments and an experience of presenting to or interacting with a public audience.  The events--a large scale Town Hall (Political Science), a large scale "Great Debate" (Communication), a film festival based on students' researched essays (English), and a business conference-style presentation and problem-solving session (Economics)--bring students together with community members who affirm the worth of students' research, challenge students to learn more through questions and discussion, and welcome students to the University and city communities.  Extensive research on the largest of these interventions, the Town Hall (900 students) and the Chico Great Debate (1700 students), indicates that this kind of work significantly improves persistence (Town Hall), academic engagement (Great Debate) and civic engagement (Town Hall).

Additional Intervention to Increase Student Engagement

The Plan: In fall '13, we will offer a co-designed, team-taught U-Course for 100 students combining the required written composition course with the required American government course.  In spring '14, we will offer this course again for 100 students, making changes based on our assessments from fall.  In addition to offering these courses again in '14-'15, we plan to add combined sections of the required written composition course with the "General Geology" course, written composition with "Introduction to the Earth's Environment," and written composition with "Introduction to Living Systems."  These courses feature a “flipped classroom” design, with an online lecture component, class time with the faculty team and student mentors focused on projects that assist students in "unpacking" and applying lecture material, and explicit and implicit attention to themes of personal and social responsibility as these emerge both within the students' learning community and with reference to the ethical dimensions of each course's disciplinary areas of study.  In addition, careful collaboration with Student Affairs and Academic Advising offices will allow us to include timely academic planning and registration sessions and an overview of services at those moments in the semester when they are needed (e.g., class-planning assistance from Academic Advising just prior to students’ registration period; offerings by Wellness and Counseling Centers during heightened stress periods surrounding mid-terms).  These components will be delivered online, with face-to-face reinforcement in class sessions and in students' contacts with staff classroom visits and ongoing contacts with student mentors.


We expect a number of positive outcomes from this curriculum redesign.  First and foremost, we expect to improve success rates for our students, which will be reflected in improved first-semester GPAs, improved persistence to the second year of college, improved sense of personal and social responsibility, a decline in DFWUI rates, and improved academic engagement.