Moving from QEP to First Year Seminar

By Keith Mellinger, QEP Director

With the formal launch of our Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) this academic year, it is well past time to stop using the language of accreditation and shift to language that better describes this critical component of the university’s undergraduate curriculum: the first-year seminar.  While the development of our plan “Research, Write, Speak” will continue, the QEP nomenclature does little to explain its purpose—that is, to ensure strategic growth and development of a first-year seminar program that is the cornerstone of the UMW undergraduate academic experience.

Yes, we still have a tight reporting timeline for the five-year interim report due to SACS-COC in 2018.  And yes, my official job description will still be recognized for administrative purposes as QEP Director.  Nevertheless, this simple shift in the way that we talk about what we are trying to do is critical to how we think about the important work that lies ahead in more fully developing our first-year experience.

And so, with AY 2014-2015 marking the first full-year of implementation of our plan to enhance our “first-year seminar,” we are off to a fast start.  Our efforts began this summer when more than 50 faculty participated in a day-long workshop. This fall, more than 40 sections of first-year seminars are being offered by 14 departments. Two online learning modules are complete and have been redesigned to completely embed into a Canvas course (the CRAAP Test and the Communication Apprehension modules). The third module, which focuses on the Writing Process, is due to be completed later this fall.

In order to preserve scarce resources for faculty development, we have decided to rework the modules so that they can be delivered within our existing course management system (Canvas), rather than investing in a stand-alone platform as we had originally planned.  This move has naturally come with a few glitches, but we have learned a great deal in recent weeks, and the guidance of the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies has been invaluable in this process. Soon, we will start conversations on the next round of module development—one each from the Speaking Center, the Writing Center, and Simpson Library. Looking forward, our goal is to have more than a dozen modules available to support instruction in the first-year seminar, thereby giving faculty the flexibility to accessorize their own courses in ways that they see fit.  If you have ideas for modules that you would like to see developed, please let me know.

A second focus of efforts to enhance the first-year seminar involves an expansion in the number and variety of instructors and courses. Our first-year seminars should resemble the diversity of our people and our programs. Toward this end, we have preserved financial support to assist in the development of new seminar proposals. This past summer, eight faculty received “QEP Grants” to support the development of new team-taught courses. Our budget decisions have been guided by the imperative of supporting future course development in the coming year. In addition, lunchtime workshops and other programs will be held throughout the academic year.

Finally, the QEP website has been considerably enhanced, thanks in large part to a new member of the QEP Team. Leah Tams, a 2014 graduate and Darden Award winner, will be working part time with me this year while she pursues an internship at the Smithsonian.  In just a few days, Leah has become a Canvas expert and has substantially upgraded our online presence.  She will be working on a number of projects throughout the year that are designed to create a tremendous set of digital resources for instructors.  You can check it out at As always, contact me at any time if you have questions or ideas related to the First-Year Seminar program.


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