First-year class requirements considered

Faculty senate overviews refined proposal for entry level freshman courses

Nolan Lister | The Rebel Yell

A refined proposal regarding a proposition to change the general education curriculum was discussed among members of the Faculty Senate on Tuesday.

The proposition is a result of a seven-year long process to provide students with a more “coherent” and “intentional” general education curriculum. During the meeting, issues such as staffing and how to implement a first- and second-year course were met with a more definite answer.

The first-year course could be offered by any college and would be worth two credits, which would replace the two-credit Constitutions requirement. Students could take the course along with other first-year course requirements including math and English. This proposed course would introduce students to both an academic and engagement focus.

General Education Advisory Committee Chair Dave James said that both proposed courses would cost UNLV approximately $1 million per academic year.

James explained that in the proposed first-year course, students could be assigned to write a paper, but would also learn how to write that paper through instruction on how to find resources in the library, for example.

The course would be co-taught by academic full-time faculty along with graduate assistants and part-time instructors (PTIs). It would not be grading intensive nor would it require new staff or replace any currently in the general education curriculum. Ideally, the course would be “built out” from existing first-year courses such as SCI 101.

Faculty Senate Chair Gregory Brown said in an email that the first-year course would help students develop the skills to “succeed in university study,” but pointed out that some faculty members worry that it may be too lax of a course.

“Faculty do worry that such a course might not be academically rigorous; that it would be a ‘study skills’ course,” Brown said in the email.

James said that regarding instruction implementation of the first-year course, no idea was “firm yet,” but that a feasible approach could be based on a voluntary basis. He explained that if a faculty member presided over three sections of the course on top of his or her assigned workload, it would accumulate to three semester credits of overload. The overload could then be “banked” towards either a course release, reward of travel funds or research money, James said.

James also addressed the concerns about availability of scheduled space for the first-year course at the meeting.

The first- and second-year course would require 120 sections of each be added to the general education curriculum per academic year. If the courses were to be offered during the fall and spring semester, only 60 sections would be offered per semester.

James said that he researched how many 75-minute, 3-credit blocks were available at eight campus buildings including John S. Wright Hall and Carol C. Harter Classroom Building Complex. He said he found that in Fall 2011, 137 two-day block free sections were available. James explained that each fall semester generally maintains the same schedule pattern.

He pointed out that his research showed that more than double the amount of sections that are needed to implement the first- and second-year course are available per semester.

“So there’s more than enough rooms in the right seat capacity range to be able to handle [60 first- and second-year courses per semester],” James said. “And that’s only Monday through Thursday. If you go to Fridays, there are another 134 schedulable blocks free.”

He said that the courses could also be offered in the summer in order to “reduce some of the pressure” on the fall and spring schedules.

An issue was brought forth during the meeting regarding whether or not the first-year course could be offered online.

President Neal Smatresk said in response that the goal of the proposed course was to “create a sense of community.”

“[The goal is] to give people friends they could link out to and to create the sticky campus environment that we believe builds college success,” Smatresk said. “To the extent that online can deliver that is great, but face-to-face interaction between students and social interactions do have value-added impact on first-year experiences.”

In terms of the second-year course, it could be proposed by any faculty member. It would be worth three credits and would be more reading and writing intensive with students reading up to 40 pages a week and writing 20 pages a semester. The class-size is intended to be 25 students as well with a voluntary-basis instruction approach.

Faculty members who teach a section of the course may instruct their students on their own area of expertise. The course would be “built out” from world literature, which means that the existing course would be the second-year course and would gradually evolve as instructors design the section.

A concern among faculty senate members is that faculty may be hesitant to instruct such a writing-intensive course without a teaching assistant. Additionally, because the general consensus is that the first- and second-year courses be taught by full-time academic faculty, part-time instructors may become the instructors for non-general education courses.

Brown said that the General Education Committee has also proposed to review all general education requirements including math, composition and constitutions. The committee would provide oversight in ensuring the general education courses fulfill their own course requirement, but also address the University Undergraduate Learning Outcomes (UULO’s) intended to outline expectations of UNLV graduates.

Brown emphasized in his email that it was “a sad but true fact” that UNLV students’ academic performance is not up to par in terms of faculty or their own expectations.

“We have worked hard, as a university, to improve retention rates and graduate rates, but we have to do better,” he said in the email. “[And] the state and System of Higher Ed is going to require us to do better by basing funding on student performance rather than enrollment.”

James said that were student retention rates to improve, students would feel “better engaged and perform better.” He said that while one such result from fulfilling that mission would be money, the gain would be the students.

James intimated that the time had come for UNLV to no longer be the university in which students settled for because they were not accepted by other universities or colleges. He said it was vital that students feel as though they felt the general education curriculum was worth their “time and trouble.”

James admitted that while he could not promise any individual student that he or she would succeed in their professional careers as a result of the proposed changes to the general education curriculum, it would provide students with lifelong skills.

“People change careers. They change direction. That’s the way the world is,” he said. “You have to adapt, grow and change. Whatever it is, people learn to evolve and grow. We hope that college will give you the skills to continue to evolve and grow.”

Contact Julie Ann Formoso at julieann.formoso.ry@gmail.com.

Speak Your Mind