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DALVision Profile: New first‑year FASS seminars

- July 15, 2013

More classroom conversation is on the way. (Nick Pearce photo)

One of the rewards of reaching the final years of an undergraduate degree is often the seminar course: an opportunity to dive into a topic that you only get to skim the surface of in a more general survey class. Ask any alum and he or she will likely cite such a seminar as their favourite experience inside a Dal classroom.

In a pilot project funded through the DALVision Academic Innovation initiative, the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) will be bringing that in-depth academic experience to the first-year classroom as well.

This fall, FASS is launching five new first-year seminar courses, each of them interdisciplinary in scope, with topics ranging from hip hop as a window into Latin American culture, to considering “the Celtic world.”

“It’s a chance to have really high-calibre faculty working with small groups of students in first year,” explains Donna Rogers, who helped spearhead the new courses during her time as associate dean academic of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Each of the courses has enrolment capped at 20 students.

“We hope that they not only offer the students some really engaging and interesting conversation and exploration, but that they help build some key competencies and skills: information literacy, writing, presentation skills and others.”

A variety of courses


The courses bring together varied perspectives, from the humanities and social sciences to languages and the performing arts. FASS students generally take a variety of different courses in their first year; the seminars offer a similar exploratory experience but within a common topic. The hope is that the seminars not only attract new students but also encourage first-year students to continue their studies within FASS.

The courses (and professors) are as follows:

Latin America through the Lens of Hip-Hop (Claudia Cubillos) — An exploration of Latin American contemporary issues via hip-hop. Students listen to and discuss music in class and study selected readings to understand the ways that music and culture intersect and influence one another.

The Performer in Society (Roberta Barker) — Why is performance one of the most ancient and durable aspects of human community and interaction? How are performers and their choices shaped by their societies, and vice versa? This seminar explores these questions and more by looking at some of the vital roles fulfilled by theatrical, musical, and cinematic performers in global societies, both ancient and modern.

Friend, Neighbour, Stranger, Self: The Political Significance of Personal Relationships (Laura Eramian) — Are personal relationships only personal and private, or do they have a broader public, political, and anthropological significance? What can the study of everyday social relationships between family, friends, neighbours, and strangers reveal about our modern world? This course examines a broad range of everyday personal relationships in Euro-American cultural contexts in order to address these questions.

Freedom (Kirstin Borgerson) — What does it mean to be free to do something or not to do something? In what sense (if any) are people living under conditions of desperate poverty free? Are young women who pursue cosmetic surgery making free choices? Moreover, might it sometimes be acceptable to interfere with people’s free choices — in reproduction, hate speech, pornography, research? In this class, students begin to formulate answers to these and related questions by looking in detail at accounts of political freedom.

The Celtic World (Jerry White) — This course introduces the diversity of Celtic culture through the six languages in the Celtic language family: Cornish, Manx, Breton, Scottish Gaelic, Irish Gaelic, and Welsh. While students will not necessarily learn to speak these languages, they will spend time on the broad characteristic of each while considering the relationship between language and culture.  

A memorable classroom experience


All these courses are electives, and the seminar initiative is a pilot project this year, but the Faculty will be evaluating students’ responses closely. If successful, the seminars could well become a fixture of the first-year FASS experience in the future.

Dr. Rogers regrets she won’t be able to teach one of the seminars herself — she’s headed to Brescia University College to serve as academic dean — but she’s very excited to see the project come to fruition.

“These students are getting to really explore a topic they’re interested in, right in their first year — think about the discussions they’ll be able to have in the classroom when they get to third or fourth year. We hope the experience is something that will stay with them through their university career.”

The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences also received funding from the DALVision Academic Innovation initiative to support new online and blended-delivery courses, starting with “Sustainability, Development, Economy” in the Department of International Development Studies in collaboration with the College of Sustainability. The course will be piloted this fall with the goal of becoming a regular summer option for students starting in 2014.

This article is part of a series highlighting projects funded by the DALVision Academic Innovation initiative. To learn more about DALVision and this year’s projects, visit its website.


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