First-year seminars seek to transform post-secondary experience

On May 27, 2011 Wilfrid Laurier University announced it would offer, for the first time in school history, first-year seminar courses for undergraduate students. The creation of these courses was made possible because of a special grant from the vice president: academic of the school. Students are able to enroll in one of a total of ten seminar courses of 20 students, each with five of the courses being offered in the fall and five in the winter. This is a pilot project aimed at gauging its success before expanding it.

The rationale for creating these courses was to encourage the acquirement of core skills in undergraduate students that would serve the students well throughout their time in post-secondary education and beyond. From this rationale, many conclusions can be derived. Paramount among the conclusions is that students and staff are recognizing the importance of transferable skill development and acquirement. Students in Canadian colleges and universities do not learn the same way their parents did and yet, they are being taught the same way their parents were. Overhauling the educational delivery systems of our schools is an endeavour that requires incremental change. Pilot projects like the one cited above are examples of such small changes.

Change cannot be sweeping and sudden. The professors and administrators teaching students were largely taught at a time when lecture-style pedagogy was still the widely accepted standard in efficiency and effectiveness. However, the current and future generations of students spent their formative years in as stark and contrasting an environment, as compared to previous generations, as history has had thrust upon it. Technology has evolved more in the last 20 years than in the 200 years preceding.

The advent of digital information and technology singlehandedly transferred the authority of learning from the hands of the professionals into the hands of anyone. Young people began learning on their terms by experimentation and less from reflection and stabilization. Learning has become experiential while teaching has remained theoretical.

This fall Ontario universities are welcoming in the single largest undergraduate class in provincial history. These students have made an investment in the powers of education and the development that can be derived from learning.

There should be an inherent responsibility to provide for these students teaching that can most effectively result in life-long learning. If those students are learning a different way than they are being taught there must be an acknowledgment and proliferation of a new way of teaching.

WLU students stand as paragons within the education sector as those who are able to strike a balance between curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular work. They are able to do so because WLU and Wilfrid Laurier University Student’s Union have provided as cognizant and supportive an environment for these opportunities as any school in the province. The foundations already exist therefore to support the adoption of more first-year seminars, more undergraduate research opportunities, more recognition of co-curricular activities, more mentoring programs and capstone projects in your fourth year.

The dawn of a new teaching age however will not come without student consultation and student mobilization. You are the stakeholders and you fund the schools operating budget. You also have student advocates and administration officials on campus who can help; they’re on the third floor of the Fred Nichols Campus Centre. Go talk to your dean of students, go talk to your vice president of student affairs, go talk to the WLUSU vice president for university affairs, talk to me as part of the board of directors and tell us how you learn, why you learn and what the school and the students’ union can do to help you learn better, on your terms.