New First Year Experience to Replace WittSems
Last week, Registrar Jack Campbell sent out an email announcing that the Wittenberg Seminars (best known as “WittSems”) will be eliminated from the general education requirements next year. While this will eliminate the Integrated Learning goal, or ‘L’ credit, from the general education requirements, faculty and staff plan to work in conjunction with the office of the Provost to develop a new first year experience.
The WittSem program was introduced in 2003 as a replacement to the previous first year experience, Common Learning. For Common Learning, students read a common text over the summer and followed similar goals in each section of the class. WittSems, however, covered a wide array of different topics; in fact, over the course of its ten year installment, thirty different WittSems have been taught by various Wittenberg faculty representing different departments. Professor of English Ty Buckman, Associate Provost for Undergraduate Affairs and Curriculum, stated that after ten years it is time for the program to take a new turn.
“I think that this is an opportunity for us to design a program that the campus can get excited about,” said Buckman. “In the lifecycle of the university, programs need to be developed and run their course and need to be replaced with new courses.”
Professor of English and Head of the Educational Policies Committee, Scot Hinson, pointed out that Wittenberg is not unique in its first year seminars. Some schools utilize a half semester course called “University College” in which students are taught the basics of college academic success. Hinson also points out that WittSems are difficult on staff due to the obligations professors feel towards the students majoring in their department.
“Professors have to deliver curriculum to the majors and the university wants them to teach outside the program,” said Hinson. “Then demands are even greater on the remaining faculty to deliver their curriculum.”
Yet, despite the challenges they may present in delegating resources, professors have expressed enjoying their participation in the WittSem program.
“I have really enjoyed the opportunity to teach a topic that is not part of the standard chemistry curriculum,” said Professor of Chemistry, Raymond Dudek. “Additionally, I find the development of incoming students to be an interesting process that I ordinarily would not get a chance to participate in.”
Pastor Anders Tune agreed that the program has been a good expression of Wittenberg’s commitment to liberal arts.
“On the other hand,” said Tune, “I understand the importance of financial constraints, and that it was a relatively expensive program to run.”
Students have also expressed positive feelings towards the idea of a structured first year seminar.
“I feel like my WittSem is a lot of work and as an adjustment course to college,” said Meaghan Summers, class of 2017. “But I do like the fact that you get your academics advisor in that way.”
“I really liked my WittSem,” said sophomore Tim Baker. “It wasn’t a class I would have taken on my own but I really enjoyed it and learned a lot.”
Buckman assures that there would be some first year program for incoming students in the Fall of 2014, even if that means continuing with the WittSems for another year. In the meantime, he will head a task force of faculty and staff charged with bringing recommendations to the Provost.
“The idea behind the action is to better serve the needs of our first year students and to do so in a more financially responsible way,” said Buckman. “Part of our task is to focus more intentionally on helping students make a successful transition.”
The proposals for new first year programs are expected to be presented to the faculty during this semester, with the hopes that it can be put into effect for the 2014 incoming class.