Survey and Intro Courses

Courses at the 100 level are suitable for first-year students or those beginning to learn a discipline. They presume no prior knowledge and do not have prerequisites.

Although required of our majors & minors, they are more often taken by students from elsewhere in the university for Gen Ed (LASC = Liberal Arts and Sciences Curriculum) credit. Instructors should plan for, and support the needs of, students who are not planning to major in our fields and for whom this course might be their only experience in our department. That said, these are “gateway” courses to–and common prerequisites for–our upper-level courses and to our degree programs, and so they need to address learning outcomes within our own programs so that students can advance having mastered the appropriate content knowledge and skills.

Ideally, intro and survey courses achieve a balance between LASC and discipline-specific learning goals. They accommodate and welcome all students, regardless of ability, background, or degree program.

Coverage v. Uncoverage

Intro-level courses balance temporal or conceptual “coverage” of a vast field with the need to “uncover” or model how knowledge is created in history or political science, within the time frame of a single 15-week (or shorter) semester. Both coverage and uncoverage are important for intro-level students to understand.

For more on “uncoverage” as a model for a survey history course, see Len Calder, “Uncoverage: Towards a Signature Pedagogy for the History Survey,” Journal of American History, March 2006.

Active Learning

At Worcester State, we have the advantage of teaching all our intro courses in small sections usually capped at 25 or 32 students. Unlike some universities, we do not relegate intro courses to gigantic lecture halls with many hundreds of students or teach massive online courses with thousands enrolled. It is therefore possible, and in fact highly preferred, to employ strategies of active learning in our teaching to engage students in learning by doing. These might include:

  • pausing to check understanding, discussion, clarifying questions, demonstrations
  • think-pair-share, peer learning, group work
  • active problem-solving, brainstorming, synthesis, case studies
  • debate, oral presentation, role playing, or mock simulation
  • “flipped” learning (lecture-type learning happens as homework, application of learning happens in class)
  • field trips, site visits, library sessions
  • archival work, collecting / analyzing data
  • inquiry-based learning, open-ended assignments, exploration
  • short in-class writing prompts, mapping, creating timelines
  • student-created test questions, group study sessions, active review of prior material

Active learning is not “busy work” but purposeful instruction that guides students toward the course learning outcomes. Many studies have consistently shown that students retain far fewer course concepts when sitting passively listening than when they are actively engaged in the learning process. And active learning creates a more inclusive class environment, since traditional lecture may not be the optimal learning style for all students.

Active learning in online / hybrid courses is no less important, but has some special considerations; see the Teaching Blended or OL Courses module.

Next Module: Course and Syllabus Design