Dr. Jennifer Black has been teaching a University Foundations (UF) course at Boise State for the past seven years. According to Dr. Black, a lecture hall full of students requires a different teaching strategy than a classroom with only a few rows of desks. It is easier for students to disengage from learning when sitting with 80 other students.
“I think when we get in a big group, we think, ‘Oh I don’t need to contribute anything, I can just sit back and either listen or do whatever I feel like,’” Black said. “So it takes more creativity to use active learning in a big class like that.”
Active learning is especially important in a UF course, where students with varying majors all come together to gain a better understanding of concepts like media literacy, social change and self-identity. From Black’s perspective, the college experience is about more than just vocational training.
“I think a lot of students who come to college think they’re coming to be trained for one specific career,” Black said. “I believe that college should be much more flexible and adaptable than just preparing you for a single job.”
While many students benefit from a required explorative learning experience, some already feel like they have the knowledge they need. Felix King, a junior psychology major and transfer student, wishes for a better option for those who have already made substantial progress in their college career.
“I think it’s really important for freshmen to take it,” King said. “It makes you start thinking about things in a different way, and I think that’s really important, but for me, as a junior, I feel like it’s sometimes a waste of time.”
Plenty of students have thought negatively of UF courses, but Black has seen the overall sentiment change for the better. As the program has become more ingrained in university practice, students have embraced the educational opportunity for what it is.
“For those first few years of students, this was a new thing, and there was always a rumor going around that somehow it was going to go away,” Black said. “Since the program has really come into its own, it seems like students are much less resistant and much more open to letting this be a significant learning experience for them.”
In the original implementation of the UF program, Black said there was a lack of understanding as to what it was. A lack of university-wide buy-in led to students not having a full grasp of the courses’ potential for learning.
“Not as many faculty were engaged in the program as there are now, so it was not as integrated into the university,” Black said. “I think that that made it harder for students to understand and harder for faculty to explain to students.”
Today, many students are fully embracing the learning opportunity of UF courses. Colin Ferry, a freshman business major, finds that his UF course does not just cover relevant topics, but gives him a wide range of perspectives from students across the academic spectrum.
“You have people in my grade that are in college algebra; then you have people who are in calculus,” Ferry said. “Being in one class altogether where it’s the exact same topic, you’re getting a lot of refreshing ideas.”
Through the UF program, Black argues that students are not just becoming better learners, but better citizens as well. Through the use of other perspectives, Boise State students create a more informed society.
“They’re gonna go on to be the ones who are making laws, are voting on laws, or making decisions about the future of our country,” Black said. “It’s important that we have a really well-educated citizenry.”