NEWSLETTER: VOL III, # 3, September 21, 1998
Keith Montgomery, Ph.D.
Department of Geology & Geography: University of Wisconsin-Marathon County
Freshman Seminar WWW Resources at UW-Marathon County
Freshman Seminar classes have become commonplace over the past 5-10 years at many universities and colleges in North America and Europe. An early model for many of these classes was "University 101" at The University of South Carolina. The formats of these courses are varied and run the gamut from honors-level seminars that concentrate on one topic in which the faculty instructor has special expertise to courses that are almost entirely "skills" or "survival" courses. Courses also vary in the number of credits, with some comprising a comprehensive three credit offering, but most settling for one credit. The overall objectives of these courses generally include easing the transition to university for the student, academically and socially, and so increasing student success and retention. More challenging courses place emphasis upon introducing the students to the intellectual culture of the university.
The Freshman Seminar at UW-Marathon County has been running now for five years in the Fall semester and enrolls about one quarter of the incoming freshman in 5-6 one credit sections. Some sections are linked to existing courses or programs in which most, if not all of the students are enrolled in both the seminar and the "regular" course. In these "linked" courses the emphasis is on "community building" rather than on further discussion of class material or course enrichment. Along with other sections that stand alone, they take their substantive content from other sources and themes. In three of the years all seminars used the same readings. In one of these years the focus was on autobiographical material from a variety of individuals, and instructors and students reflected upon the personal development of these subjects. Another year focussed on the cultural diversity of the local community, while yet another year focussed on issues raised in the Presidential election campaign and current affairs in general. Regardless of the model, a common element woven into the seminars is some consideration of topics such as: critical thinking, note-taking, reading, time-management, degree planning, and involvement in campus affairs and activities. Therefore, to some degree, all sections include "skills" content.
There are a number of reasonably-priced publications that can be used deliver this type of skills content. There are also a number of sites on the web that do likewise. However the quality of the latter is highly variable across all topics. Therefore, some sections at UWMC are using an original Freshman Seminar //HyperTextBook// . Still somewhat under construction, this source presents high-quality and comprehensive instruction in topics such as time management, note-taking etc. Additionally, its use in the course ensures that students are casually instructed in the use of the Internet and e-mail on the local campus!