Integrating the IF Student-Facilitated Discussion Process into First-Year Seminars
For our third Summer Institute in 2012, we wanted to explore the possible impact of integrating the IF discussion process into a first-year seminar program. Rather than working with faculty from a number of different schools, as we had in the past, we decided to focus our attention on one school. We chose to collaborate with Wesleyan College, a small liberal arts college for women in Macon, Georgia. Wesleyan College had an existing first-year seminar program known as the Wesleyan Integrative Seminar Experience, or “WISe.” Starting in the winter of 2012, we worked with faculty to redesign WISe 101 (the first course in a two-semester sequence). In June 2012 we held a Summer Institute to train the group of twelve faculty who would teach WISe 101 in fall 2012 and fall 2013. We also trained four student interns as peer mentors, who would assist with some of the course sections.
Why a First-Year Seminar?
We decided to focus on first-year programs for a number of reasons. The IF discussion process requires students to learn how to facilitate their own student discussion teams. These teams are tasked with exploring and developing contrasting perspectives on the class material. They develop diverse ways of making sense of the class material. We reasoned that having such a course experience in the first semester could set the tone for a student’s education. If students have responsibility for the collaborative co-development of the course content, this could foster a greater sense of ownership for their learning. By learning how to engage in, and to facilitate, generative discussions, students would also be learning vital communication and interactional skills that would serve them well in their other courses and throughout their college years.
Details about WISe 101
The theme of WISe was focused on exploring the notion of what it means to be wise, especially in terms of developing the skills and habits of mind that can help one to be successful in college and beyond.
- Students met in small (5-6 students) student-facilitated discussion teams for 1/3 of the class sessions (every Friday was “IF-Friday”)
- Student-facilitated teams were charged with exploring the developing contrasting perspectives on the class material.
- Facilitation duties rotated from week to week, with each student facilitating twice.
- Faculty members took on the role of coaches in this process, meeting with students to discuss their facilitation plans, observing the discussions, and providing targeted feedback to the student facilitators.
Overall the students and faculty had a positive appraisal of this approach to learning. We will have more information as we work through the results. Some of the highlights include the students reporting:
- Learning how to engage in collaborative discussions where the participants are building something together
- Learning from the discussion, where participants came away with a different understanding instead of just reinforcing a prior point of view
- Learning to think more deeply and creatively, going beyond what was in the class texts or faculty presentations
- Learning to deal positively with differences and valuing divergent perspectives
- Learning practical communication skills, such active listening, the ability to help a group expand its thinking, the ability to think on one’s feet, and the ability to summarize a discussion
Interestingly, the students also reported that they looked at their instructors with new eyes and with more of a “meta” perspective, recognizing that instructors were constantly engaged in the task of facilitating learning among the students as a group. The faculty echoed the students’ insights with particular appreciation for how self-directed and consistently on-task the student discussion teams were. The faculty and peer mentors also noted that this group of students seemed to bond more quickly, and across more boundary lines, compared to previous years of students.