First-Year Seminars

Nine Characteristics of Successful First-Year Seminars

As reported by Barefoot and Fidler (1996), -it has been observed that "successful" seminars - those that enjoy strong, broad-based institutional support and long life - are those that exhibit the characteristics listed below. Although there are exceptions to this list and many possible additions to it, both empirical evidence and the collective experience of professionals at the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition confirm the importance of these nine characteristics.

  • They carry academic credit.
  • They are centered in, rather than tangential to, the first-year curriculum, serving as an integral part of general education, core, or major requirements.
  • They include academic content - often extra or interdisciplinary content that is woven into essential process elements such as study skills, library use, writing, etc.
  • Faculty are involved in all stages of program design and instruction.
  • Student affairs professionals are also involved in all stages of program design and instruction.
  • Instructors are trained in basic methods of group facilitation and active learning pedagogies: Course process becomes as important as course content.
  • Instructors are paid or otherwise rewarded for teaching the seminar.
  • Upper-level students are involved in course delivery.
  • Courses are evaluated on a regular basis, and results of this evaluation are made available to the entire campus community.

From Barefoot, B., & Fidler, P. (1996). The 1994 National Survey of Freshman Seminar Programs: Continuing Innovations in the Collegiate Curriculum (Monograph No. 20). National Resource Center for The Freshman Year Experience & Students in Transition. University of South Carolina.

Ten Tips for Success in Teaching First-Year Seminars
Building upon Diane Strommer's "Teaching first-year college students: ten tips for success" in Solid Foundations: building success for first year seminars through instructor training and development, the following are additional tips suggested for success in teaching first-year seminars.

  1. Embrace high expectations and demand quality work
  2. Learn names early and use them
  3. Demonstrate self-disclosure
  4. Give students ownership for some aspects of the course
  5. Involve students in teaching the course
  6. Remember that process is content
  7. Meet at least once with each student individually
  8. Obtain feedback throughout the term
  9. Provide opportunity for synthesis and projection
  10. Know that teaching new-student seminars is a continual work in progress

Strommer, D.W. (1999) Teaching first-year college students: ten tips for success. In M.S. Hunter & T.L. Skipper (Eds) Soild Foundations, Building success for first-year seminars through training and development (Monograph No.29)(pp.39-52). Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition.