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Faculty To Share Models for First Year Programs at Conference in Chicago

Faculty To Share Models for First Year Programs at Conference in Chicago April 20, 2012

First-year students, and ways to give them a solid start on their college careers, will be on the minds of 38 faculty and administrators from across the ACM when they meet in Chicago on April 21-22 for a conference on “Successful Liberal Arts Students: Reflecting on the Development of Student Skills and Agency.”

Every ACM college has some type of First Year program – seminars and courses, advising, and other learning experiences – specifically designed to engage first-year students in the classroom and as active members of the college community. The colleges also are working to assess the effectiveness of those efforts. Which programs, curricular refinements, and strategies are most effective? What are incoming students learning and how can that learning be assessed? Are there ways that ACM colleges can work together to address these questions?

“One of the big goals of the conference is to see what similarities and differences exist across campuses with regard to First Year programs,” said Rachel Ragland, Associate Professor of Education at Lake Forest College and one of the organizers of the event.

“For example, one of the goals that everyone was assessing for their First Year programs was improving student writing, but we approach it in a lot of different ways,” she explained. “I know that at Lake Forest we’ve gotten some very good ideas from other [ACM colleges] and we’ve been able to incorporate some of those ideas.”

The conference is the culminating event of two projects funded by grants from ACM’s Faculty Career Enhancement (FaCE) Project:

Both projects have completed their initial phase in which the faculty at the participating colleges shared approaches, incubated new ideas, and developed models for First Year programs. The two-day conference will disseminate the results to all the ACM colleges and be an opportunity to explore future collaborations.

Ragland has been working with colleagues at six other ACM colleges on the First-Year Learning Outcomes project. One of her colleagues, Beloit College Associate Professor of Religious Studies Natalie Gummer, is also a leader of the Developing Student Agency project.

“Their grant dealt with first-year students and obviously our grant does, as well, so people interested in one topic would be interested in hearing about the other project, too,” Ragland noted. Since both projects were planning to hold conferences at about the same time, Gummer and Ragland decided that it made sense to join forces.

As a key part of each project, faculty and administrators at various ACM colleges have developed programs and activities for first-year students, as well as mechanisms for assessing student learning, and then shared the results with colleagues on other campuses. The conference has been designed to follow that same model by emphasizing sharing and networking. The schedule includes:

  • Faculty panels to share the results of their individual projects and use that as a springboard for discussing common issues;
  • Breakout sessions for participants to address challenges and solutions faced on ACM campuses regarding First Year programs;
  • Interactive workshop sessions on developing and using rubrics to assess writing skills and student agency; and
  • A talk on “Deep Learning: What We Know about the Brain, Active Reflection, and the Development of Agency” by Julie Tetley, Chief of Academic Advising and First-Year Programs at the Air Force Academy.

The conference will wrap up by considering “next steps,” such as new partnerships and collaborations, sharing information about new programs being developed on the campuses, and disseminating the results of the two projects through the ACM FaCE website hosted by SERC at Carleton College.

“I think that’s one of the big pluses of working with other ACM schools,” said Ragland. “We’re all individual and have our own unique ways of approaching things. The context of the schools is more similar than different, and that helps collaboration and leads to some productive outcomes.”

The Successful Liberal Arts Students conference is among the final projects to be completed in Phase II of FaCE. Over the past four years, with generous support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, this phase of FaCE has funded nearly 50 workshops, conferences, and research projects in which faculty have collaborated across disciplines and across campuses to improve teaching, curriculum, and student learning.


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