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4 Pillars of a First-Year Seminar:
Instructional Guiding Principles & Framework for Course Design

First-Year Seminar instructors are highly engaged in student development and have an active, important role in their students' transition to college. All First-Year Seminars are developed around the following Four Pillars of a First-Year Seminar. By incorporating these research-based guiding principles and consistent framework for course design into each seminar, the role these courses (and instructors) have in students' collegiate success is strengthened.

Instructors should note that these are guiding principles and framework for course design, not content directives. First-Year Seminar curriculum is determined by individual instructors and developed around these four pillars.

Are you a student?

These same 4 pillars help students understand what a FYS is and what they can expect when they enroll in one of these courses. To learn more about what these pillars look like for students, click here

Pillar 1: Academic Inquiry

Definition: Student Engagement in Academic Inquiry

Description: First-Year Seminars serve as an introduction to the process of discovering, exploring, and analyzing academic questions and developing critical academic skills within a specific field of study, topic, or discipline.


Pillar 2: Active Learning

Definition: Student Participation through Active Learning

Description: "Active learning is commonly defined as activities that students do to construct knowledge and understanding. The activities vary but require students to do higher order thinking. Although not always explicitly noted, metacognition- student's thinking about their own learning- is an important element, providing the link between activity and learning."

"Approaches that promote active learning focus more on developing students' skills than on transmitting information and require that students do something- read, discuss, write- that requires higher-order thinking. They also tend to place some emphasis on students' explorations of their own attitudes and values."


Pillar 3: Community and Connectedness

Definition: First-Year Seminars Build a Sense of Community and Connectedness for New First Year Students

Description: First-Year Seminar classrooms are inclusive learning environments that foster positive relationships, recognize and celebrate differences and diversity among all participants, and contribute to a more enriching collegiate experience.

Per the University of Iowa's 2019-2021 Excellence through Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Action Plan, inclusion refers to a campus community where all members are and feel respected, have a sense of belonging, and are able to participate and achieve to their potential. While diversity is essential, it is not sufficient. An institution can be both diverse and noninclusive at the same time, thus a sustained practice of creating inclusive environments is necessary for success.


Pillar 4: Exploration of Identity

Definition: Student Exploration of Identity through Self-Authorship

Description: "Developing self-authorship, [is] the internal capacity to construct one's beliefs, identity, and social relations" (Evans et al, 2010, p. 184).

Students enrolled in a First-Year Seminar participate in the key developmental process of asking themselves: Who am I? How do I know? and How do I construct relationships with others?

This is often done through writing or other work that fosters reflection and provides an opportunity for students to process what they're learning and how this new knowledge contributes to their personal development.



Sources include, but are not limited to: