First year seminars foster students’ transition to college

September 27, 2011

In their First Year Seminars, members of McDaniel’s class of 2015 are exploring topics that range from reality TV to killer plants, journalism to nanotechnology – and some have brand new iPads on loan for their investigation of digital culture.

English professor Julia Jasken is one of the first McDaniel faculty members to test the new pilot program that allows students to learn about the iPad while using it to facilitate their learning in various other subjects.  In First Year Seminar (FYS), Exploring Digital Culture, students use an iPad to analyze emerging applications for mobile devices, touch pads and other technology.

As part of the pilot program, every student in Jasken’s class is also taking two other courses which integrate innovative iPad use into learning – Philosophy 1102: Critical Thinking and General Science 1109: The Nature of Science. For the FYS course, students must write 10 blog posts, present on various applications, analyze the digital public relation strategies used by political candidates and create a video project incorporating traditional research into a visual argument.

“The class seemed so appealing to me because it assesses how people in my generation are growing, essentially with technology in our hands at an early age,” said Phillip Perry, from Crownsville, Md., who recently presented in class on the merits of applications such as “Friendly for Facebook” and “G-Whiz,” a universal Google products application.

FYS courses are designed to ease students’ transition from high school to college and to encourage full participation in the college community.  Social Work professor Michelle Young’s course on Reality Television and Environmental Studies professor Scott Hardy’s Sustainability course are among other pioneer FYS classes at McDaniel.

Young’s students examine the growing reality-TV phenomenon within the contextual themes of group dynamics, organization behavior and socio-cultural norms.  She began to see alarming patterns of behavior on reality shows and became concerned about the messages shaping viewers’ perspectives.

Jordan Birden believes it is important to study popular culture in order to be better educated on current events.

“The first year program is doing an outstanding job in getting students aware of interesting things in our world today,” said the first-year student from Baltimore.

Young enjoys teaching a First Year Seminar because it gives the students the opportunity to look at a particular academic topic and also target subjects like adjustment to college, literacy skills and critical thinking.

Hardy, in his first year teaching Sustainability as a First Year Seminar, hopes to convey three touchstones: environmental protection, economic development and social equity.  Becoming more “green” has been a growing trend at McDaniel in the past four years, with new buildings heated and cooled with geothermal systems, and new energy efficient lighting in Englar Dining Hall and Gill Gym, among others.

Hardy likes the interdisciplinary nature of the course, with students learning through the contexts of sociology, ecology, business, politics, and more.

Maria Moreno of Quito, Ecuador, was pleasantly surprised by the course’s in-depth discussion and dialogue.

“What I like is the polemic and controversial debate level…to say what I think and people can refute it with valid and reasonable arguments,” she said.