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Campus Bulletin

January 03, 2006

First-Year Seminars Expanded for Winter Semester

The University has expanded the number of first-year seminars to give more students the opportunity to experience the small discussion-oriented learning groups.

Thirty-two seminars are being offered in the winter semester, with a cap of 15 students each. The courses are all multidisciplinary and centre around provocative themes. They count for an elective credit within the degree programs and are taught by senior faculty and administrators with reputations for being excellent teachers and researchers.

“My first year seminar was what I pictured university should be — a forum to discuss
and examine our values, the basis of truth, right and wrong in our society,” says Karl Torbicki, one of seven students who took a fall semester seminar on sex, gender and sexuality taught by College of Arts dean Jacqueline Murray and president Alastair Summerlee.

“As a microbiology student, I appreciated having my stable scientific world view tested and broadened by the moral dilemmas we tackled as a group,” Torbicki says. Murray and Summerlee used a problem-based learning format that “left us with lots of questions and taught us to identify what we didn't know. No other course at university has been as engaging or left me with such a desire to learn and understand.”

That’s exactly what the first-year seminars are designed to do, says Prof. Alan Shepard, associate vice-president (academic), who taught one of the first seminars as part of a 2003 pilot program. “They allow students to participate in an active learning environment — where the focus is on classroom discussion, writing and thinking — early in their university careers. The seminars also provide an opportunity to learn from some of the University’s most innovative and experienced faculty and administrators who are sharing their specialized research interests.”

Expanding first-year seminars was also recommended in the White Paper, a comprehensive and critical evaluation of U of G’s undergraduate learning experience that was released late last fall.

“It’s a very interactive way to learn,” Torbecki says. “The class taught me to pinpoint what I needed to find out and exactly how to find the information I was looking for. I became much more comfortable with the library, and aside from endless book and web searches, I learned how to access Supreme Court rulings, journal articles and current affairs databases. Now I can tackle unanswered questions from any of my classes.”

The topics of this semester’s seminars include an examination of scandal and the Gomery inquiry, women in Scotland, the art of communicating science, and whether technology has doomed reading and writing.

"I highly recommend the first-year seminar experience,” says Torbicki. “My advice to other first-year student is: Don’t pass up this chance to take control of your own learning and to get to know all of your classmates and a professor on an individual level. It’s entirely worth it.”

Students can register for the courses through WebAdvisor.

More information and a complete listing of seminar offerings

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