Required CLA freshman course draws student criticism

Some students said that the class took time away from major-specific classes.

Required CLA freshman course draws student criticism

Roy Aker

Psychology sophomore Marissa Cerone said the required College of Liberal Arts 1001 and 1002 course she took last year “didn’t really serve a purpose.”

According to a survey of University sophomores who took the course as freshmen, she wasn’t alone. Many students took issue with certain aspects of the class.

The First-Year Experience program, which began in fall 2012, is a yearlong course consisting mostly of online exercises in which students explore potential majors and departments and learn how to connect with faculty and academic support staff.

Paul Spangle, the course’s creator and assistant director of Engagement and First Year Programs, said there’s been a national push in higher education across the country for first-year programming. Other Big Ten schools offer similar courses, but most don’t require them.

Nearly 80 percent of students surveyed said creating a plan for their sophomore year was “not at all useful” or only “slightly useful.” Other class requirements, like meeting with an academic adviser, were found to be more valuable.

Spangle said he “never actually defined what useful meant” for the one-quarter of enrolled students who took the survey.

“I don’t know that the [survey] data is necessarily indicative of the experience that all students had,” he said.

Some of the most negative responses were to specific assignments. The vast majority of those surveyed found the class’s “digital story” assignment to be “not at all useful” or “slightly useful.”

“[It] was literally the most pointless assignment I’ve ever completed,” said Cerone, who entered college with a decided major and said too much class time was spent on major exploration.

“I was in two graduate level classes [last semester], and I was taking 17 credits, not including the CLA online course. That’s a lot of coursework for me to handle,” she said.

Sophomore Hannah Stephan agreed.

“One-to-two page reflections on the activities took valuable time away from my other classes, and I didn’t feel that aspect of the class was completely necessary,” she said.

Spangle said the course, which fulfilled one credit per semester, required three hours of work per week.

Another issue students raised was the usefulness of connecting with their Program Assistants, whose role resembled that of teaching assistants for other University courses.

Although many students found their PAs helpful, 42 percent of students said connecting with them for a required one-on-one consultation was “not at all useful.”

In fact, Cerone said, her PA expressed problems with the course during their meeting.

“When you have the people who were grading our assignments telling us that even they think the course isn’t working very well,” she said, “that’s a problem.”

Cerone said she thinks some of the course’s downfalls could be attributed to the fact that it was a new experience for both PAs and students.

“We were the guinea pigs, and we kind of all understood that,” she said.

Kevin Kallmes, who was a PA last semester for 25 students, agreed it was an “experimental year” for everyone.

Spangle said students will have more choice in course assignments and content this coming year and that more than 25 percent of the new PAs will be former students.

This fall, Spangle said he wants PAs to focus less on one-on-one mentoring relationships and instead try to bring more first year students together.

The takeaway from the survey, he said, is that course designers need to do a better job of articulating the connection between assignments and how they’re setting up students for success.

“We’re listening to the feedback,” he said, “and the program is evolving based on that feedback.”