High Impact Practices Spotlight Series: First-Year Seminars and Experiences

By Tiffany MacLennan, Maple League Research Fellow and Strategist and Tanisha Campbell, Maple League Student Fellow, Knowledge Mobilization & Community Engagement

In today’s High Impact Practice Spotlight Series, we look at first-year seminars and experiences. Transitioning to university is no easy task, but with professors like these, our students receive incredibly innovative teaching experiences from day one. This spotlight looks at examples of high-impact practices adapted to first-year classrooms that are often larger and have specific requirements to meet new students’ needs. First year is critical for student retention and success. Here are four examples of how professors at the Maple League create extraordinary student experiences.


Dr. Gregory Brophy and Dr. Shawn Malley – Bishop’s University


Our experiment in team teaching began as a means of tackling a broad array of literary, film and media texts in our high enrolment introductory course, ENG100. Rather than split teaching assignments into areas of expertise, our approach is an oftentimes untidy extended dialogue, a performance of interpretive work in real time as a way of modelling critique as a social act. In any given moment, one of us holds the stage while the other teaches by modeling active reception: taking notes on the board, asking for clarification, and posing challenging questions.

Such impromptu exchange requires flexibility and even humility, a readiness to hear challenges and change course. It’s a matter of pride to see many of our students quickly internalize these values, fostering incisive intellectual friendships as an integral strategy for engagement, success and ultimately pleasure. This collaboration has inspired our renewed thinking about scholarly authorship: we are now actively engaged at the nexus of critical thinking and cooperative pedagogy, having co-authored an article in Science Fiction Film and Television (July 2020), with a book project underway.


Dr. Elizabeth Wells – Mount Allison University


My focus in first year foundation courses is to create signature pedagogies that make students into mini-musicologists. I have them write their own music histories, through either prose or graphic formats, so they can see where they come from and that they are part of an ongoing story of music history. I have them write an ethnography of the building they study in, so that they can see how place and design feed into the kinds of things they are studying, and what they are studying. I also have them do a learning philosophy, so that they understand better why they are here and doing what they are doing. These, and other various assignments are meant to immerse students in the world of music history and prepare them for future courses.


Dr. Dave Risk – St. Francis Xavier University



My 100-level Environmental Earth Sciences class lacks a formal lab and means to deliver hands-on experience. So, on a Saturday I offer my time, research lab, and instrumentation for measuring carbon dioxide and methane. I show students how to measure carbon dioxide and methane levels in a bag sample of air and then offer groups a measurement challenge. I may ask them to tell me how carbon dioxide builds up within occupied indoor spaces. Or, to document carbon dioxide levels on Main Street relative to the green spaces in town. Or, to find the sewer grating on campus with the highest levels of both gases. Students spend a few hours exploring and collecting samples while popping into the lab regularly for sample analysis and discussion. For some students it’s their first introduction to air sampling, and to some parts of town! This lab is optional but almost everyone opts-in.


Dr. Anna Kiefte and Dr. Jeff Banks – Acadia University



In September 2020, we planned, produced, and hosted nine Teams Live sessions where students could hear from faculty and staff from Acadia about various topics designed to help them to be successful during their university experience. Topics included: ways to get started on the right foot, technology tools and best practices, study skills, time management, avoiding plagiarism, information about research and facilities on campus, library resources, critical evaluation of information, fostering personal wellbeing, and help centres and other academic support resources. Students were able to ask questions and draw from the experiences of presenters. The sessions were also made available for all students to watch afterwards at a time of their choosing.

The HIP Visibility Project is a part of a larger HIP project conducted by Research Fellow and Strategist Tiffany MacLennan. The goal of the HIP project is to make HIPs more accessible for both faculty and students. For more information about the HIP project or if you would like to participate, please contact Tiffany at x2015lki@stfx.ca.

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