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Discussion: Teaching First-Year Students

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On Friday, September 25th, a group interested in discussing teaching first-year students met. Our next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, November 10th, from 12:30-1:30 in E240 Olmsted. Since I promised to share the results of a freshmen panel discussion that was held in April of 2007, I thought this venue might provide the broadest and easiest access. Please feel free to contribute by providing your comments.

PSH Freshmen Talk about Making it Through Their First Year
April 12, 2007

Eight freshmen student panelists: two 1st semester, six 2nd semester
Majors: CompSci, Marketing/Advertising, Accounting/Finance, DUS/Business Mgmt., Advertising/Public Relations, Security & Risk Analysis, DUS, Engr.
Three panelists live on campus, and five commute.

Question: You have successfully survived your freshmen year of college - what helped your success? Were there particular activities, organizations, offices, or other support structures that really made an impact on your success?

  • Several students mentioned expectations - self-fulfilling prophecy, set expectations high enough
  • Kappa Sigma - an academic check, set academic goals
  • Learning Center - they find as much time as needed, study sessions before big tests really helpful and FREE, helps with motivation
  • Advisors helped a lot.
  • Time management is key - agendas are given to students in high school and they are told to write in due dates, but college doesn't have that. Students have lots of credits, and many are working either full-time or part-time. Professors and advisors need to stress time management with their students.
  • It is helpful when faculty conduct progress checks, ask students where they are on studying for a test or preparing a project, and provide reminders for due dates. Simple questions help: "What are you doing to study for the mid-term?" "How are you progressing?"
  • Organizations are helpful, such as the CrimJ club, for their faculty involvement and outside speakers. The outside speakers help you to see the end goal, and it helps you stay focused on your studies. Other activities, such as the CAP Times and racquetball (gym), are great for getting involved and relaxing, especially for the commuting student.
  • Faculty are helpful, approachable, willing to help you out, offer encouragement, and have office hours.
  • It's great having the Library open after hours to have a place to go and get work done after classes.
  • One student appreciated the flexibility in the ability to add/delete credits, make choices.
  • "My own willpower to sit down and work on what is needed has been the key to my success."
Question: Is there anything our campus can do to better support freshmen as they navigate through their first year of college?

  • Several students suggested more job opportunities for freshmen that aren't just work study. The only job one student could find was in Stacks.
  • You can never have too many tutors. Tutors are great, but sometimes they are too busy for walk-ins.
  • Need more options for learning things that are necessary for college like MLA. They are not used to having to write longer papers. High school didn't really stress proper MLA. It's also a challenge to know what's available.
  • Have orientation provide more than just getting to know each other, and let them know what to expect.
  • Several suggested more advisors to be able to get in to see someone rather than have to wait 2-3 weeks for an appointment.
  • There needs to be more promotion of events, what's going on, and resources available - not just email since they get so many. It could be email if it could be coded in some way or have separate tabs by advisor or academics so you know that it's really important to read that one right away. It's really easy to overlook important messages. Perhaps color-coded email headings would work. Posters, flyers on tables, or other visuals would be helpful for events or resources (e.g., Writing help available here.)
  • Provide more outdoor events in fall/spring so there are multiple opportunities to mingle and get to know each other. It's more welcoming, especially for freshmen.
  • The Learning Center helps a lot. The stickers to place on your notebook were a good idea and were used.
  • Provide more on campus housing to become more involved and to build more community and student involvement.

Question from History professor: Since there is no history major, most of his students are interested in something other than history.  He is thinking of changing his assessment from a mid-term and final to weekly quizzes to keep his students' engaged in the course content. What are the students' thoughts on this?

  • The students gave unanimous agreement on the making the change from a mid-term and final to weekly quizzes.
  • Weekly quizzes will help students learn more.
  • Attendance and participation will improve.
  • It's a better format for students to better meet professors' expectations - what they're asking of us.
  • Weekly or biweekly quizzes would be better than just two high-stakes tests.
  • Two students recommended to still give a cumulative final at the end of the course to pull everything together.
  • Sometimes everything seems to be due at once, so bi-weekly quizzes might work well too so students can have a week off.
  • Weekly quizzes helps with time management, organization, helps to learn/retain because of the repetition.
  • A student recommended it for all math and science courses because she just took a 14 chapter math exam with 120 questions that left the students feeling defeated.
  • For general education courses, more students will take classes that offer this format (word-of-mouth via the "student intelligence network"). These are the type of courses that students recommend to each other. One student had a professor that used this format last semester, and he purposefully took another course with that professor this semester.
  • If you do poorly on one high stakes exam, that's it!

Question from FYS Professor: Input requested for planning FTCAP or FYS - what do you wish someone had told you that would have been helpful for this year?

  • I wish someone had told me that just about everything we do in every class is run through ANGEL.
  • The FYS speakers who come to the class are very, very helpful (e.g., plagiarism and the library).
  • I wish someone had told me how much food costs.
  • FYS seemed unorganized - the different curriculums depended on who taught it. Several students thought that the curriculum should be the same with a standard format, especially for a one-credit course. It seemed that some professors had a personal agenda for the course.
  • FYS is a big help
  • Some valued the required co-curriculars because they would not have learned about them otherwise. It helps to learn what's available, you learn about other cultures, and you get free food! One thought that the co-curriculars should focus more on topics specific to their academic success rather than the cultural topics.
  • One student thought that advisors should recommend FYS for those students who need it, rather than having all non-traditional students required to take it.
  • One student suggested inviting all outside speakers into the FYS course instead of making it an outside option.
  • The FYS course work should not be busy-work, but should be fun, informative, motivational, and simple.
  • Learning about (the basics) ANGEL, eLion, Learning Center, Library, plagiarism is helpful. ENGL 030 didn't cover all of this.

Question from Enrollment/Recruitment Counselor working with pre-college students: Why should a student come to Penn State Harrisburg?

  • It's not too big or overwhelming like University Park.
  • It's a great, smooth transition from high school to college.
  • In the dorms you have your own room which makes it easier to focus on academics.
  • Even if you don't know everyone's name, you'll at least recognize them.
  • There are fewer distractions on a smaller campus.
  • The student/teacher ratio is great.
  • It's big enough to have a large diverse group, but also small enough that you're able to concentrate on getting your course work done. You meet so many new people with so many diverse perspectives, and are exposed to many cultures.
  • The environment, diversity, smiles. Everyone here wears a smiling face J.
  • Plenty of campus activities.
  • Teachers recognize you by name; they care, and they are personable.
  • With the great advising, DUS, a lot of activities - the whole campus is like one big family of faculty, staff, and students.
  • You can get a degree from a major university at a small campus. You're not sitting in a classroom with 600 students. You can spend 4 years here, or go to UP if you want.

Question from Aquatic Coordinator: Concerned with dorm/roommate issues expressed by her student workers. Asking for suggestions.

  • Some students would like to have a choice for a substance-free dorm. Some students are escaping family situations of substance abuse, and really want to be free of it.
  • Another student didn't see a problem with the housing because he was able to have a roommate moved to another dorm - they just had to find another room for him. He was happy to be able to move to a quieter room. Even when you don't get along with all of your roommates, you have your own room so it's really not a big problem.
  • One suggested some kind of test for roommate compatibility.
  • Sometimes it takes too long (entire semester) to get out of a bad situation. One student reported that it took a friend two months to get moved out of a noisy dorm room.
  • More housing would solve some of this.
  • A student from California suggested a priority for out-of-state students getting on-campus housing. The list she was given of potential roommates was very helpful. Her other two roommates at Pineford are also out-of-state.

Question from DUS Advisor: What can we do better to help you get prepared for advising appointments - how to look at the Fall schedule, how to pull a degree audit?

  • It's good practice to prepare a mock schedule.
  • It's confusing because the course numbers are all different and change, and the prerequisites seem so complex that advisors don't always understand them.
  • The advisors are great, we just need more of them.
  • The color-coded rainbow sheets were great. They need to be made available again.
  • Students did not know about the online course schedule and the advanced search feature. One student had just learned about it, and another had just practiced using it in their FYS course. A workshop and/or worksheet would be helpful for freshmen to learn how to schedule their courses.
  • There's got to be a better way of scheduling FTCAP for out-of-state students, maybe making it online, since it costs a lot to travel. She had to travel from LA just for FTCAP = $300.

Question from Career services: How can we make freshmen more aware of services available since some thought co-curriculars should be optional?

  • Career services, including resume writing, interviewing, job searches, just don't seem as relevant for freshmen as it becomes later on when they're juniors or seniors. If it's not mandatory, they probably wouldn't come unless they need it - that's when they'll seek it.
  • It would be helpful to have workshop schedules available in other places like the ANGEL calendar.
  • Career services is just not where freshmen concerns are their first year.

Comment from FYS Professor in School of Science, Engineering, and Technology: Recommends repeating information 3 or 4 times for freshmen in throughout the first year, as he does with running through a demonstration of a degree audit.

  • The FYS experience is different depending on the professor. For one student's FYS course the instructor did not always come and it was supposed to be run by the mentor, but the mentor usually did not come either. His instructor did not cover ANGEL as comprehensively as other FYS courses did.
  • One instructor had the FYS students complete an ANGEL scavenger hunt that was really helpful.
  • One student wished he would have had degree audit information and other similar basic information in his FYS course.
  • They were not aware of the advising website (
  • ANGEL should be used in FYS, and there should be a standard format for FYS.