First-Year Experience
Georgia Southern University

FYE Faculty Task Force

Provost Linda Bleicken formed the Faculty Task Force in August 2006 and charged the group with developing challenge/support initiatives, particularly academic in nature, to strengthen the First-Year Experience on campus.  The following links describe the work of the Task Force and the status of various recommendations to date.  The Task Force solicits feedback through the link at the bottom of the page.

Faculty Task Force Background

As part of the University’s reaffirmation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACSCOC) in 2005, Georgia Southern University submitted a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP). Three of the five objectives of the QEP focus on the first year:

  1. Freshmen will apply behaviors that demonstrate their responsibilities as engaged learners.
  2. Freshmen will practice behaviors that lead to lifelong learning.
  3. Freshmen will evaluate their responsibilities as engaged members in diverse communities.

In order to better position the University to achieve these objectives, Georgia Southern participated in the Foundations of Excellence® project in 2005-2006 to assess strengths and weaknesses of the first year as experienced by students and to make recommendations for improvement. Nearly 60 faculty, staff and students participated, as members of one of nine Dimension Review Teams that examined a specific aspect of the first year. In addition, the University participated in a first-year student survey and a faculty/staff survey; nearly eighty percent of each sample completed the survey. This process yielded many significant findings, three of which significantly shaped the work of the Faculty Task Force:

  • Compared with other institutions who participated in the Foundations of Excellence project, Georgia Southern scored fairly well when it came to affective measures of student engagement, but underperformed in areas of academic engagement.
  • On the whole, faculty envisioned the First-Year Experience as a Student Affairs unit rather than an Academic Affairs one. Because of this, efforts to improve FYE were not seen as an Academic Affairs responsibility.
  • Students did not, in large numbers, report that Georgia Southern accurately communicated academic expectations prior to enrollment. Only 49 percent indicated that the University did so to a “very high” or “high” degree.

Because of these findings, Provost Linda Bleicken formed the Faculty Task Force and charged the group with developing challenge/support initiatives, particularly academic in nature, to strengthen the First-Year Experience on campus. She charged the group with examining students’ experiences before enrollment, during the GSU1210 course administered during the first semester, and beyond the first semester.

Task Force Operations

Membership
The First-Year Experience Faculty Task Force was comprised of the following members representing the following academic units:

  • Business Administration: Dr. Godfrey Gibbison
  • Education: Dr. Wendy Chambers
  • Information Technology: Dr. Thomas Case
  • Liberal Arts and Social Sciences: Dr. Kathy Albertson and Dr. Charlie Crouch
  • Health and Human Sciences: Dr. Daniel Czech
  • Science and Technology: Jessica Orvis and Dr. Donna Saye
  • Library: Lisa Smith
  • Bulloch County School System: Michele Barton (Southeast Bulloch High School)
Process

The Task Force met six times on Friday afternoons during the fall semester and for a six-hour working session on October 14 to discuss various ways to improve the First-Year Experience. The Task Force held two faculty fora and conducted five student focus groups, two with high school students, one with a group of traditional first-year students, one with students in the Eagle Incentive Program, and one composed of GSU1210 peer leaders and SOAR leaders. The Task Force members also solicited regular feedback from their colleagues in their colleges about specific initiatives under discussions through college-wide emails. The group submitted its report on December 15, 2006.

A subset of the original Task Force, comprised of Chris Caplinger, Tom Case, Wendy Chambers, Charlie Crouch, Dan Czech, Jessica Orvis and Lisa Smith, met during the Spring semester to consider implementation of specific strategies. Concurrently, the report was reviewed by Dean’s Council and President’s Cabinet. These bodies have requested further vetting by appropriate committees in the coming months as described in the recommendations (see the Task Force Home Page), beginning with Faculty Senate on April 24, 2007. The Task Force encourages any University community member with comments on the recommendations to make them through this website, or by contacting a Task Force member..

Statement of Philosophy

The First-Year Experience must set a proper academic tone. Such a tone fosters an individual ethic that values the life of the mind, and thus launches first-year students down the road to becoming successful university students and lifelong learners.

Articulating an academic ethic indicates to incoming students that Georgia Southern University has serious expectations of them, and this is an important first step. Fostering this ethic requires high levels of support from faculty, administration, and staff early in students’ collegiate careers. While one of the goals of the first year should be for students to work towards becoming self-directed learners, many if not most students are far from this goal when they enter the University. While setting clear expectations, the University community must meet students where they are and be prepared to intervene at the earliest sign that a student is at risk for failure or disengagement from the educational process.

Too often, the First-Year Experience has been seen as an administrative or staff responsibility operating on the fringes of the academic life of the institution. Absolutely crucial to the success of the First-Year Experience is the meaningful participation of the faculty. Such participation must be recognized, supported, and rewarded by the University. .

Programmatic and Policy Recommendations
The recommendations of the Task Force fall into three areas: Curriculum, Expectations, and Intervention. In cases where the recommendation has a hypertext link, click on it to read the supporting position paper describing the rationale and specifics. In cases where there is no link, consult the general grid of recommendations (.xls).Curriculum

Expectations

Intervention

Four Recommendations for Faculty Colleagues to Consider

There are four issues that we recognize are important for students’ success but on which we either cannot or do not wish to recommend an institutional-level mandate. However, since we believe these issues are very important for the success of students, particularly first-year students, we wish to strongly encourage faculty members to consider these items when planning their courses and to adopt them as class policies/practices whenever possible. Finally, we are happily aware that some faculty members already implement some of these items to varying degrees.

1. Requiring Class Attendance

There is a strong association between class attendance and success in a course. This point is well recognized. Students themselves identify poor class attendance as the main reason they fail to succeed in courses. Even though students make the connection between class attendance and success, the reality is regular class attendance is not the highest priority for many students. First-year students are also dealing with the added shock that their time is basically theirs to manage, and that the life-managing role that their parents played until recently has disappeared. Many students find it difficult to adjust to the seemingly abrupt disappearance of structure. We therefore strongly recommend that faculty members consider requiring class attendance especially in courses comprised largely of first-year students. We leave it up to the individual faculty to devise creative incentive schemes that work best with their course and the student population they serve. We recognize that this might be difficult to implement in some courses, either because of class size, philosophical opposition or the very nature of the course. However, some disciplines that teach large sections of entry level courses have found creative ways of coping with class size. The “clicker” technology, for example, can potentially solve the problem of class size.

2. Articulating the Purpose of the Core

Almost universally students view core courses as serving penance without having sinned. This is clearly not what was intended when the core was conceived and created. We therefore encourage each faculty member who teaches a core course to present a clear case to students as to why that course is in the core, as well as discuss the logic behind a set of core courses in general. In essence we are asking faculty members who teach core courses to become ambassadors for the core. Students might find core courses more appealing if they understood why they are taking these courses, and how these courses fit in with the University’s overall educational mission and objectives. Students need to view core courses as existing within a unified whole, rather than individual silos, completely isolated from one another.

3. Early & Frequent Assessment, Progress Reports

In some courses the midterm grade is the first and only time a first-year student gets substantial feedback on his or her progress in the course from the professor. In some cases there is little possibility that the student’s grade can recover and the student’s only option is to withdraw from the course. In the interest of student success and progression we suggest that, whenever possible, first-year students be given early and frequent feedback on their progress in a course. Early assessment and feedback give students the time to improve their grade, before a high percentage of the course points have been completed. Frequent assessment ensures that a student’s grade does not rest heavily on one single assignment or exam. It might also be necessary for the instructor to help the student interpret progress reports. For example, students sometimes apply the wrong denominator when they calculate their grade at a particular point in the semester. The end result is that some students fail to withdraw from a course that they have no chance of passing. In other cases students withdraw from a course in which they are making good progress. We ask that our colleagues keep in mind that first-year students often have no experience at keeping track of their own progress, let alone keeping track of the various points systems and weighting schemes that different professors apply. This of course is the students’ responsibility, but in this period of transition during the students’ first year, we believe more invasiveness is appropriate. We confess that this recommendation requires a significant time commitment.

4. How to Succeed in this Course

As academics, the success of our students is our number one priority. The student’s priority is to survive the course with a passing grade. First-year students have the added challenge of succeeding in a new environment. It should not be surprising that a first year student might devise simple rules or systems for survival in their courses. It is not uncommon for students to express frustration that the same system that is leading to a passing grade in History, for example, is leading to failure in Economics. We therefore strongly recommend that, if not at the individual professor level, at least at a program level, “survival and success toolkits” be devised, distributed to and discussed with students. Individual professors should be free to customize those toolkits to match the needs of their particular course. Some of the issues that might need to be addressed are (but not limited to) how much out time needs to be spent out of class reading, studying or otherwise preparing for class, how different material might appear on a test, the level of analysis and synthesis necessary to be able to perform adequately on exams, and why some strategies (like cramming the night before a test) might fail to produce desired results.

Written for the Task Force by Godfrey Gibbison, College of Business Administration

Last updated: 11/9/2015

First-Year Experience • P.O. Box 8145 Statesboro, GA 30460 • (912) 478-3939 • fye@georgiasouthern.edu