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University pleased with Seminar

Kate Antonacci | Thursday, January 27, 2005

One semester after Notre Dame replaced the Core class with the new one-semester College Seminar, professors and students are calling the new program a success. This past fall, the College Seminar replaced Core, a two semester sophomore-level course in existence for more than 25 years. Both courses have been required for Arts and Letters majors. The University decided to make the change after complaints from professors about the course’s reading material and student dissatisfaction. Currently, the College of Arts and Letters is evaluating its success and comparing it to the old Core.George Howard, director of the College Seminar and of the former Core program, said the Office of Institutional Research was completing a formal evaluation on the new program. “The evaluation [they’re] doing is comparing last year’s Core course with this past fall’s college seminar,” Howard said. However, Howard said the success of the College Seminar has already been clear.”Core was a continual headache of faculty liking some material in the course and not liking others,” Howard said. “In College Seminar, the faculty is responsible for picking.”Howard said students have also helped to provide opinions about the new seminar. The Core Congress, an advisory group composed of students, has been changed to the College Seminar Congress. “With Core, the reaction was always mixed. That kind of reaction was true for the last several years that we had Core Congress,” Howard said. “We had College Seminar Congress this fall and it was overwhelmingly positive.”Students have responded positively inside the classroom as well.”The students responded in an extraordinary way. I felt the course was the most successful one I have ever taught, for the quality of the students’ work and research, their engagement with the subject, the liveliness and intensity of class discussions, and the atmosphere we generated in the classroom,” said Christian Moevs, who taught a “Dante: Poetry, Arts, Politics” seminar. Howard expects the structure of the new program to add to its success.”With Core, we [the Core Department] determined 80 percent of the content of Core course,” Howard said. “In [the College Seminar], faculty members can determine 100 percent of the content.”Many professors agreed that College Seminar ran similarly to Core, but was structured differently and gave them more freedom to design their own class.Other professors viewed College Seminar as a greater challenge, particularly because of the oral intensive nature of the course. “College Seminar was an experiment for me – it made me consider designing a course based on oral performance,” said Moevs. “I decided to take the challenge, and made my seminar 100 percent based on oral work.”There are, however, certain requirements that each College Seminar professor must meet.”It has to represent the three main domains of Arts and Letters – humanities, social sciences, fine and performing arts,” said Howard.Though these three areas need to be intertwined into the class by each professor, the College Seminar focuses more on answering the bigger questions. “[The College Seminar] reflects the continual drift toward specialization and away from a general education and skills for citizenship and global identity in an increasingly shrinking world,” said Andy Weigert, who teaches a Society and Environment seminar.There are currently 23 College Seminar courses offered and there were 31 full sections in the fall. College Seminar focuses on answering big questions, with topics including folk tales, the point of Arts and Letters, spiritual education and blacks in Russia.The variety of topics and the elimination of the yearlong program has sparked further interest in the program.College Seminars are capped at 17 students, with a few exceptions, and focus on oral participation.Because of the oral-intensive nature of the class, many professors graded students based on class participation, oral presentations and oral exams. “We did oral exams, which I felt worked better and were fairer and more accurate, than written exams,” said Moevs. “One aim was to help students become more articulate and polished in speaking and thinking on their feet – ND students don’t get much training in this in their normal academic work.”Howard added that professors have been eager to teach College Seminar.”We’ve had no problem whatsoever getting people to teach them and this is in stark contrast to Core where we would beg and plead to get people to teach them,” Howard said.Though the full-year course did have advantages, the College Seminar Department is confident that shift from Core will have a positive effect.”One key pedagogical gain in Core was that second semester is when major student empowerment occurs,” said Weigert. “Thus, the [College Seminar] is not a replacement for a yearlong Core, but only a new course.”