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Freshman inquiry seminars

Why do they exist?

The inquiry seminars are a staple to freshmen year at Concordia. Though they vary in content, they focus on one criteria in general: to inspire a love of learning in new students.

Dr. Sethre-Hofstad, dean of the college and overseer of the first-year experience program is partial to instilling a love of learning in freshmen. She says although the seminars have different topics, they still are expected to meet the same criteria. According to Sethre-Hofstad, the courses are meant to follow the five goals of liberal learning.

“We want students to come in and to understand how to fall in love with the learning process. How to ask the right questions, think about things in new ways, question their own assumptions and the process of questioning those assumptions can lead them to new ways of knowing,” Sethre-Hofstad said.

Sethre-Hofstad explains in many ways, the goal is to create a setting where students explore their own questions and work together as a community of fellow learners to find the answers. Professors assist in the inquiry process, but often take a step back to allow students to reach their own conclusions; this helps them become more independent learners.

Professor of English, Dr. Olsen,  is in his final year of teaching his seminar “Adventure, Exploration, & Risk,” and says his goal through the years has been to create an environment where students learn to analyze and articulate their thoughts on complex issues.

“Their job, essentially, is to keep me quiet in class,” he said.

Olsen’s seminar is largely based upon student discussion. Olsen explains that instead of telling his students the answers, he takes on the role of the “provocateur” in order to probe their inquiry on literature dealing with the themes of self-discovery and adventure.

“It’s fun to see them articulate those questions and those problems” Olsen said.

According to Olsen, there are also extracurricular activities students in the class can do that emulate the adventures they read about in class. These adventures are among scuba diving, sailing and flying airplanes. These supplemental activities are by no means mandatory.

“They are meant to be a real-world addition to the reading we’re doing” Olsen said.

The critical thinking involved with the inquiry seminars has positive results. Sethre-Hofstad, conducts surveys from freshmen who have just taken their inquiry courses.

“[Students] report doing more thinking rather than memorizing and they report more engagement and wrestling with ideas rather than just spitting back information,” she said.

This idea of becoming critical thinkers is echoed by Olsen, who says students discover new ways of thinking. His goal is for students to leave the class not learning just A, B and C, but thinking about A, B, and C in a new way.

In addition to the educational benefits, the inquiry seminars may help further establish a sense of camaraderie amongst fellow clubbies. Olsen said his seminar is very much a bonding experience, for students despite the fact that many of them end up in different majors.

Sethre-Hofstad explains the first year experience program is designed for students’ benefit. She says she is always eager to hear feedback from students on what they liked about their experience in the first year program or what they would like to see change in the future.

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