A Living Laboratory: Augustana’s New Calendar

Augustana Campus has started things a little differently this year by embarking on two exciting new initiatives: the “3–11” and First Year…

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Augustana’s field studies in environmental science and ecology course took place at our Miquelon Lake Research Station. Students ate, slept, and studied out at the station for the three-week course.

Augustana Campus has started things a little differently this year by embarking on two exciting new initiatives: the “3–11” and First Year Seminars. Each of these new initiatives are part of our effort to be “a living laboratory for teaching and learning innovation, to the benefit of the entire university.”

The first initiative involved rearranging the academic schedule into a new calendar, or what is colloquially called “3–11.” Each term now consists of one three-week session in which students take one three-credit course followed by an 11-week session of four additional three-credit courses.

We have also used this academic rhythm to offer an innovative course for all new students — the First Year Seminar (FYS) — to facilitate the transition from high school to university in a way that is academically engaging and rigorous.

Now that we’ve been through the first two months or so, you might be wondering “how are things playing out?” Here’s what we’ve found so far.

The First Year Seminar

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Professor Daniel Sims took his First Year Seminar course on cryptozoology out to Crimson Lake to hike and think critically about the concept of wilderness.

Our First Year Seminar courses are small, intensive, discussion-based, and focused on one specific topic looked at from broad and interdisciplinary perspectives in order to introduce students to the type of learning that they should anticipate during University studies. The topics of these 3 credit courses were as diverse as sports media, zombies, cyborgs, myths, and cryptozoology, and also incorporated student orientation into the course structures themselves.

Through partnerships between teaching faculty and the library, as well as the writing centre and student life units at Augustana, new students were oriented to both the academic and social aspects of university in the first days of their arrival on campus. For example, all first-year students attended a session on consent delivered by Keith Edwards, a sexual violence prevention speaker and educator. Rather than just allowing this topic to be a stand-alone presentation, follow-up discussions took place in a number of the sections of the FYS 3 credit courses that they were taking. Doing so allowed students to bring together the academic and personal growth we know takes place in the four or five years on campus right at the beginning of their programs.

The assessment process in place to measure students’ achievement of course learning objectives (with an emphasis on academic skills acquisition) in FYS shows that students rose to the challenge and demonstrated to themselves and to the faculty that they are capable of producing great work.

For example, one student shared the following note:

“The seminar class is ‘about’ zombies. But that’s not really what it’s about. The class was about bigger ideas. This class has been a challenge because I don’t love writing. With my classmates and friends inspire me to achieve at the same level as them, I have managed to work on my writing.”

These courses were also an opportunity for our faculty to stretch out of the narrow confines of their disciplines; many developed new approaches to teaching. During one of our FYS evaluation focus groups, the chair of our fine arts and humanities department, Alexander Carpenter summarized the experience well, as he said “I am a natural cynic and not given to hyperbole, but for me, this has been the best teaching experience of my career.” Many FYS instructors, like Alexander, have indicated that their participation in the FYS course has encouraged them to be more student-centred in how they teach the rest of their courses.

The 3–11

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In professor Roxanne Harde’s women and environmental literature class, students observed falconers and visited their farm, where they house falcons, hawks, and small owls.

Augustana’s returning students have also completed their first three-week session in which they took courses including field studies in environmental science and ecology, women and environmental literature, existentialism, topics in geometry, and a collaborative history research seminar. Some of these courses, such as the field studies course at our Miquelon Research Station, were an obvious fit for the three-week terms. Students and professors Glynnis Hood and Glen Hvenegaard were able to put on their hip waders and work on undergraduate research projects while living out at the research station for the duration of the session.

Other courses, such as the women and environmental literature course, have been less obvious fits for this compressed schedule, but still worked exceptionally well. Professor Roxanne Harde took her students on two field trips to complement the literary theory and literature her students were exposed to in class — trips facilitated by the three-week schedule — including a visit to a farm committed to environmental principles and witnessing falcons being flown by Albertan falconers at a local conservation area. Visiting the farm allowed students to recognize sustainable practice in action, connecting this action with ecofeminist theory which seeks to recognize and rally against the subjugation of both women and nature. Watching a bird of prey in action gave students the opportunity to get up and personal with mortality, and recognize that it is a necessary part of the food chain, and of life. Adding experiential learning to the book-learning already taking place in the classroom enhanced the overall course experience.

All of our students are now settled into their 11-week sessions. Those taking a typical full load are now enrolled in four courses. We anticipate that come November (and March in the second semester) our students will be a bit less stressed because assignments are only due in four classes rather than five as was the case previously. As a faculty, we look forward to continuing to grow into the new academic rhythms and creating new and meaningful learning opportunities for our students.

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Karsten Mündel

Karsten Mündel is Associate Dean Academic, Associate Professor of Global and Development Studies, and Director of the Learning~Advising~Beyond office at Augustana. His current research focusses on place-based learning and the broader learning environment at the Augustana Campus.