Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Faculty Development for FYS Courses in Learning Communities

Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Faculty Development for FYS Courses in Learning Communities

Article excerpt

Full-time, first-year students at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (TAMU-CC) have been required to take a twosemester First-Year Seminar (FYS) sequence since the institution welcomed its initial class of first-year students in 1994. The founders of the First-Year Learning Communities Program (FYLCP) had the revolutionary idea to embed all FYS courses within learning communities and followed the federated learning community model in which students coenroll in one or more existing university courses and an integrative seminar (Fink & Inkelas, 2015). The primary responsibility for FYS faculty at TAMUCC is to guide students in making connections among integrated learning opportunities in learning community courses. FYS professors attend linked learning community courses to serve as "master learners" and model intellectual habits to enhance student understanding of academic achievement (p. 9). In the FYS course, students are asked to engage in discussions and activities related to the linked learning community courses to contextualize the development of habits and skills that will help them make a successful transition to the university.

New FYS faculty participate in a summer training workshop prior to their first semester of teaching. Each year, new and returning FYS faculty engage in ongoing professional development including Summer and Winter Teaching Institutes and a variety of professional learning community opportunities provided in collaboration with TAMU-CC's Center for Faculty Excellence (CFE). Perhaps the most significant form of faculty development, however, occurs within the learning community teaching teams themselves, suggesting that the high-impact practice of learning communities for students also provides an equally high-impact learning experience for the faculty who teach them.

First-Year Seminar Leadership and Faculty

For most of their history, the FYLCP and FYS were uniquely situated outside of the five academic colleges at TAMU-CC. The FYLCP director or co-directors reported directly to an Associate Vice President in Academic Affairs and were originally responsible for the design and staffing of the FYS course. In 2004, an FYS Coordinator position was created to provide support for the hiring, training, mentoring, and evaluation of FYS faculty. Over the years, the FYS Coordinator's responsibilities have evolved to include program assessment, collaboration with units across the university on initiatives related to first-year student success, and an important leadership role within the administration of the FYLCP.

In September 2018, TAMU-CC announced the creation of University College, a new academic college at TAMU-CC that centralizes programming for all undergraduate students, including new student orientation, academic advising, and support for special student populations such as dual credit students and students transitioning out of foster care into the state's first supervised independent living program ("Newly Formed A&M Corpus-Christi College," 2018). The Associate Dean of University College serves as the FYLCP Coordinator and de facto chair of the Department of Undergraduate Studies, the sole department within the college that includes all FYS professors. The FYS Coordinator works closely with the FYLCP Coordinator and is responsible for leading efforts related to the FYS curriculum, assessment, and faculty development.

FYS professors are full-time, professional track faculty. The original vision for FYS was that it would be taught by tenure-track faculty using the "master learner" model (Blalock, Harper, & Piker, 2004). In practice, however, the course was primarily taught by graduate teaching assistants and adjuncts for most of the first decade. An argument was made to professionalize the role of FYS instructor in response to concerns with the high rates of FYS faculty turnover and variances in course quality identified by Ramirez (2002), and the first two full-time FYS faculty members were hired to teach in the science learning communities in 2005. …

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