First Year of Studies adjusts Moreau program at end of first semester
Devon Chenelle | Monday, December 7, 2015
The end of the semester marks the conclusion of the first semester of the Moreau First-Year Experience, a year-long, two-credit course for freshmen that replaces the previous physical education requirement.
The Moreau First-Year Experience is intended to ease new students’ transitions to the University and convey Notre Dame’s educational philosophy, Maureen Dawson, an assistant dean in the First Year of Studies program, said.
Throughout the fall semester, administrators have emphasized program elements that are working well and reworked aspects that are not, Dawson said. After fall break, the length of the course’s readings were changed, and efforts to educate students about lesser-known campus resources were re-emphasized.
“From the semester’s midpoint to now, we actually trimmed back some of the assignments. We cut back assignments’ minimum word count, to make things more focused and flexible for students,” Dawson said.
These changes were driven by student responses to a midterm survey and observation of student work submitted in Sakai, Dawson said. The survey had a more than 60 percent response rate, Dawson said, and it prompted classroom conversations between instructors and students about how to improve discussions and streamline assignments.
“The student midterm survey gave us a lot of really clear, concise responses from students about what they thought was working, what was uninteresting and what was laborious,” she said.
Survey responses also showed students liked the small group setting and the sections built around residential neighborhoods, Dawson said. The instructors also completed a survey, and responses to that survey were influential in determining future changes to the curriculum.
“They said that they really enjoyed working with students on a weekly basis, though they critiqued the reading materials,” she said. “So we took that into consideration for next fall and for the spring.”
The present classroom size is successfully creating community and facilitating discussion, Dawson said, though even smaller class sizes are a future possibility.
“Going into spring, students self-register, and right now the registration is going pretty smoothly. Many students are asking to stay in the same section with the people they had already studied with, and we’re pretty happy with that,” she said. “For discussion you really need a small environment. Long-term, if you could make class sizes smaller that would be great, but in 50 minutes many more than 19 students is not conceived well.”
Dawson said she expects the Moreau First-Year Experience will help students understand Notre Dame’s complexity and access its resources, and it will facilitate students’ holistic development and enable students to identify things that excite them. This excitement will help students engage with the University itself and with the diverse communities within and around Notre Dame, Dawson said.
“I think over time we’ll evolve that ability to showcase resources more pointedly,” Dawson said. “Now we’re at the stage where we’re sharing information with students, and we’re building a base for reflection and discussion. … With each successive semester, we’ll be able to move students more directly in contact with these resources and opportunities around campus.”