First Year Experiences

This week, I would like to share research on first year experiences (FYE), much of the research generalizes across courses. The first paper is entitled, "College Seminars for First Year Students" by Barefoot and Fidler (1996). The authors emphasize the attention needed on pedagogy, offering "active-learning techniques are frequently employed, including experiential learning, collaborative projects, discussions, role play, cooperative learning, and oral presentation." Secondly, the authors find that effective instructor development is critical, which can include "campus-wide faculty development, professional and personal development, the development of community, improvements in teaching."

Similarly, in Singer-Freeman and Bastone's (2016) article, “Pedagogical Choices Make Large Classes Feel Small” they cite the advantage of offering research-based active teaching methods. "FYE are likely to enroll students who are at risk of leaving college. As such, these classes have the potential to reach at-risk students including first-year, first-generation, undeclared, and underrepresented minority students. One route to engaging students is using evidence-based pedagogical practices, such as discussion sections, active learning, and varied forms of assessment."

Padgett, Keup, and Pascarella (2013) found positive results in their article, “The Impact of First-year Seminars on Students’ Life-long learning Orientations.” Findings suggest that FYE enhance students’ life-long learning orientations and that the effect is mediated through vetted effective practices. They found that participation in a FYE significantly increased the likelihood of integrating ideas, information, and experiences as well as academic challenge and effort.

Finally, many FYE can include a large common class component. Pedagogical aspects to keep in mind from Nilson's (2010) "Tips for Teaching Large Classes" include:

  • Write specific and measurable overall course outcomes using Bloom’s Taxonomy;

  • Base your active learning strategies on those outcomes;

  • Less is more! Focus on the most important content; spend time designing activities related to those essential concepts;

  • Make the material relatable by showing how it applies to their everyday lives;

  • Use a variety of teaching techniques and active learning strategies;

  • Be very clear in your syllabus. Students should know what to expect in your class; and

  • Be transparent about your pedagogy. Explain why you use the strategies you do, what you expect them to learn, and how they will be assessed.

Barefoot, B & Fidler, P. (1996). The 1994 National Survey of Freshman Seminar Programs: Continuing Innovations in the Collegiate Curriculum. Columbia: University of South Carolina, National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition.

Burnett J., & Krause, K. (2012). Teaching large classes: Challenges and strategies. GIHE Good Practice Guide on Teaching Large Classes.

Padgett, R. D., Keup, J. R., & Pascarella, E. T. (2013). The impact of first-year seminars on college students’ life-long learning orientations. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 50(2), 133–151. Available at

Singer-Freeman, K., & Bastone, L. (2016). Pedagogical Choices Make Large Classes Feel Small (NILOA Occasional Paper No. 27). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.

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