The sophomore seminar is the second component of Shared Passages and comes at a critical moment of challenge and opportunity in students’ journeys through the K-Plan. For most K sophomores, Study Abroad/Away looms, and all are declaring majors—two major factors in shaping an academic and personal identity, both of them exciting and intimidating prospects. College is no longer a brave new world, and the first year may have disrupted long-held goals, values, belief systems, and self-concepts, with no immediate promise of replacement. The sophomore year runs the danger of being a season in limbo—after something and before something else. The sophomore seminars offer a remarkable opportunity to bring focus to the year and shape the way students develop as learners.
The sophomore seminars provide a vital and much-needed link between students’ entry to the K experience and their other landmark K experiences—study abroad and an intense senior year involving a SIP, advanced work in the major, and a senior Shared Passages seminar. Through their common emphasis upon intercultural proficiency and the further development of writing proficiency, the sophomore seminars establish a strong foundation for two key parts of every student’s K-Plan, international engagement and the Senior Individualized Project.
What follows are guidelines to help faculty develop seminars that are at once unique to them and their content areas and also parts of a coherent educational program that centers the K-Plan for the 21st century.
- Seminars sustain and build upon the basic learning goals of the First-Year Seminars, which define some of the critical outcomes of a Kalamazoo College education.
- Seminars focus on a particular topic or question reflecting the instructor’s interest and expertise, framed in terms that take the sophomore audience into account.
- Seminars are limited to twenty sophomores, will not be limited by major, and will have no pre-requisites.
- Seminars are primarily discussion-based, using other pedagogies as appropriate.
- Seminars incorporate students’ K-Plan experiences and goals, taking into account study abroad, study away, service-learning, career exploration and professional networking, and other boundary-crossing experiences.
- Seminar faculty will meet regularly to share experiences, offer resources, and help to develop the program.
- Ongoing faculty development opportunities will help faculty address problems, explore pedagogies, integrate new resources, and chart new directions.
Key Learning Goals and Ideas for Course Design
I. Intercultural proficiency
- For programmatic purposes, “culture” need not be defined exclusively geographically. A seminar might explore, for instance, cultures of illness or of institutions. The point is to help students to develop the tools to comprehend difference and to understand themselves and their locations in the context of human diversity.
- Some possibilities: examining multiple perspectives on a given issue or problem; understanding how difference and dominance intersect; comparing and synthesizing differing theories or interpretations; understanding cultural, social and historical context as a determinant of meaning; understanding the role of one’s own subject position in interactions or interpretations; seeing one’s own intellectual, political, or cultural assumptions more clearly.
II. Ability to differentiate between observation and interpretation
- Some possibilities: field notes, critical discussion of texts; service learning, differentiating between summary and analysis, “describe/interpret/verify” exercises.
III. Writing proficiency
- Seminars should provide frequent, short writing assignments with instructor/peer feedback, but not all assignments need be assigned a letter grade.
- Opportunities for revision should be built into the course.
- Some possibilities: responses (to texts, art works, on-campus events, off-campus experiences, etc.), arts reviews, lab reports, journals, critical essays, structured reflections, research papers, creative work, autobiographical essays, in-class writing, reading summaries.
IV. Oral proficiency
- Some possibilities: discussion leadership and participation, individual or group presentations, recitations or speeches, debates, performances, research reports, role plays
V. Information literacy
- Some areas of possible emphasis: locating reliable and pertinent sources, summarizing a source’s argument, using sources ethically, differentiating between primary and secondary sources, understanding cultural forces in research, using the Internet intelligently; incorporating sources into one’s own work effectively and smoothly
- K’s reference librarians provide excellent, seminar-specific programs to help achieve these goals.