FYSs cover everything



A large proportion (82% of our first-year students in AY20) take at least one of our First Year Seminars (FYSs). Hence, it’s a good thing for us to know what exactly students are doing when they take one. To find out, we surveyed the students who had just finished taking an FYS in Fall 2017 and Fall 2019 and asked them what kind of writing they had produced in that course.


The most common kind of writing reported was “thesis/argument driven papers requiring close analysis of assigned readings/course material.” However, there are some students (10% in 2017 and 16% in 2019) who reported that they had never engaged in this kind of writing in their seminar.

The least common kinds of writing reported were “description or analysis of statistical data,” “technical writing” and “lab reports.” This not terribly surprising, since we don’t have as many FYSs offered by STEM departments.

Experiencing writing a research paper in FYSs is varied. When we asked students this question, we asked them to think about papers that required them to engage with “external material” (e.g. library resources, primary documents, etc.). About a third of students reporting having done so “more than once” in their FYS, another third reporting having done so “once,” while the other third report having “never” done so.


These findings leave us with some questions…

ONE: are we okay with some FYSs not requiring thesis-driven papers?

TWO: some of the less common kinds of writing found in FYSs are actually really important kinds of writing. Should we be offering more courses that ask students to express themselves in this way?

THREE: are we okay with some FYSs not requiring students to conduct research using material that is external to the course? If students do not learn about library resources during the FYS, where do they learn this?