November 15, 1999
Volume 52, No. 12
Focus groups result in ideas to foster student/ faculty interaction, intellectual community
Students in the college would like to have more informal opportunities to get to know their professor, according to a set of focus groups conducted by the college's Center for Teaching and Curriculum, with the assistance of Robert Froh of Duke University
Nine focus groups were held with first- and second-year students and five more were held with third- and fourth-year students during 1997-98. Each discussion was led by a faculty member, with a graduate student assisting, and three to 15 undergraduates recruited from a specific department.
The focus groups explored three main topics: academic experiences, socialexperiences and intellectual community. According to the CTC's web site <www.emory.edu/COLLEGE/CTC/ FOCUS/> the report concluded in part, "The majority of Emory's students are pleased that they chose Emory and have positive feelings about their years here. They are most satisfied with the academic challenges and experiences Emory has provided.
"They [Emory students] stress the importance of small classes and discussion-based classes. Most expressed the need for Emory-wide experiences that would bring more people together. Their sense of intellectual community depends on their definition of intellectual community. They are involved in intellectual discussions; those whose definition stretches beyond that say that Emory has no intellectual community."
"What is clear in the results is that students were hungry for closer interaction with their professors," said Walt Reed, professor of English and director of the CTC. "And the faculty have been expressing similar desires, so there has been an emphasis on finding ways to do that. The new freshman seminars are an excellent step toward meeting that need."
As part of Emory College's curriculum reform, all first-year students are required to take a freshman seminar in the fall or spring of their first year. This fall, 63 seminars were offered across 30 academic departments in the college, and 50 seminars are planned for spring semester.
"There are high hopes on the part of the faculty that freshman seminars will contribute to changing the intellectual culture at Emory," said Reed. "The idea is that the seminars will require writing and discussion, and faculty and students will get to know each other at the beginning of the students' academic careers and that the relationship will continue to develop."
Reed said a first step to understanding the seminars' effectiveness in generating interactions was a lunchtime discussion in early November among 35 faculty who led them. The event produced a "lively exchange of experiences and questions," he said. "We also plan to study the attitudes of the students towards the seminars."
"Students have to be initiated into how to discuss texts rigorously and intellectually, and these seminars are a good way to do that," said Pam Hall, Massee-Martin/
NEH Distinguished Teaching Professor, who's teaching a seminar this fall on "An Introduction to Ethics."
"By far, these seminars are the best thing to come out of curriculum reform," said Hall. "The students receive more attention and listen more to each other. Through the funding from the Massee-Martin/NEH endowment, I've been able to fund a number of the faculty who want to serve food in evening sessions so people can get to know each other even better. That can help the seminar discussions."
Several other programs have been launched or are about to get underway to foster faculty and student interaction and help create intellectual community.
A festival of new international films is being sponsored by the college, Film Studies and Emory Scholars to inaugurate and celebrate the renovated classrooms in White Hall.
Holding field trips to major exhibitions at Atlanta museums is another initiative that has received financial support from the college. These trips are organized by Dorothy Fletcher, senior lecturer in art history, and include free tickets and transportation to exhibitions at the High Museum and other local institutions.
"I had 90 free tickets available for the Impressionists exhibition last year," said Fletcher, "and after putting a notice on Learnlink, I had 300 or 400 students ask to go on the trip." Upcoming trips for this year include the Norman Rockwell exhibition at the High in January and a show of Egyptian antiquities at Fernbank.
Another new program is the Joint Activities Committee (JAC), chaired by Steve Sanderson, dean of the college, and Frances Lucas-Taucher, vice president of Campus Life. The program received $50,000 from the college to provide financial support to campus initiatives that strive to enrich the intellectual community, awarding up to $5,000 to faculty and/or student proposals that blend the supposedly separate worlds of academic and social pursuits.
For 1999-2000, the JAC has given six grants to faculty, including music Professor William Ransom to stage a two-concert series in a residence hall, dance Professor Lori Teague to support a dance-intensive retreat for dance students and faculty, and Middle Eastern studies Professor Franklin Lewis to sponsor a workshop on diversity and race relations.