Pomona College held a forum March 3 for students to express their opinions on the Freshman Critical Inquiry program (ID1) to Professors John Harris of Duke University and Gretchen Moon of Willamette University, who served as the external reviewers of an ongoing self-study process of the ID1 program.
Michael O’Shea PO ’11 and Chelsea Muir PO ’11 came to the forum and spoke with the two external reviewers, who will write a report that will be taken into consideration as preparation for the ID1 curriculum begins.
“I would like to see an emphasis on developing college level writing skills through peer review and close professor feedback,” O’Shea said at the forum. He added that he did not learn how to write at the college level until the latter part of his college years. He said he grew as a writer because he received a lot of specific feedback from his professor telling him to go deeper in his analysis, even if that meant narrowing his topic.
Muir also emphasized having the programs focused more on writing instead of content because the two primary goals of ID1 are to improve critical thinking skills and writing skills.
“Professors should come into teaching class with a framework of using writing as a learning tool,” she said.
Both students suggested that professors who do not use writing as their core learning tool should be assigned interns.
English Professor and Director of College Writing Dara Regaignon said she led the ID1 self-study committee in hopes of discerning the strengths of the program and ways for improvement. According to Regaignon, such processes are standard every ten years for each department and program at Pomona, but ID1 has not been formally reviewed since 1989, three years after it was established. The 1989 review was purely internal.
Regaignon approached Dean Cecilia Conrad and Associate Dean Katherine Hagedorn last winter or early spring about conducting a self-study for the ID1 program. Because ID1 has no standing steering committee, they then asked Professors Judson Emerick and Susan McWilliams and Associate Dean Marcelle Holmes to sit on a review committee.
In the fall, they approached ASPC President Stephanie Almeida ‘11 in order to recruit student members for the committee. Ophelia Ma PO ’13 and Courtney Powers PO ’13 were chosen.
“Ophelia’s and Courtney’s contributions have been invaluable,” Regaignon said. “They did a really good job of making sure that we listened carefully to students’ voices and concerns.”
The Curriculum Committee and next fall’s ID1 faculty will discuss the external reviewers’ report soon after commencement in May, at the annual ID1 Workshop, and will then determine what steps to take to improve the program.
“What we do at that stage will depend, in large part, on Professors Harris and Moon’s recommendations, and what the Pomona faculty think of those recommendations,” Regaignon said.
Regaignon added that some departments find it difficult contributing faculty to ID1 because they are small or have tightly structured majors, but most believe that the program is an important part of the Pomona education.
“One very concrete thing that we learned is that our ability to place students in one of their top three choices of seminar depends directly on the number of extra seats we have program-wide,” Regaignon said.
In recent years, Pomona has continued to offer 28 seminars, but the size of the entering class has grown from around 380 to around 400. As a result, it has been necessary to place students in their fifth or even sixth choices out of seven.
“The Registrar’s office does a phenomenal job of making sure that everyone gets into one of their seven choices, and that 85 percent or more of the class is in one of their top three,” Regaignon said. “But it’s an increasing challenge—and one that is compounded by the difficulty some departments have of contributing faculty to the program.”
Fixing this issue is an important goal, she added, since students learn more and have a better experience when they are invested in the subject matter of the course. Harris and the two students at the March 3 forum agreed that placing students in seminars that interest them is essential.
Last semester, a survey was sent out to half of the sophomore class and half of the junior class asking for their opinions regarding ID1, and a fairly representative sample was collected, according to the review committee. In last week’s forum, students expressed complaints similar to those that surfaced in the survey, such as lack of interest in the topic or a varied workload.
Many students feel like they got their last choice when in reality, 70 percent of students get one of their top three choices, and in the past five years only one student has gotten his last choice.
The issue of perceived variations in course intensity and workload among different ID1 courses was also addressed at the forum. ID1 professors are told to assign 20 to 25 pages of formal written assignments and according to studies, most do. However, students may feel that they may write more or less than their peers because some professors assign more rewrites and informal papers than others.
Several people suggested that ID1 seminars should be subject to more specific standards.
However, Harris said that in that scenario students would complain that they “were being treated like cogs in a machine.” He also said that students would be willing to invest more effort if they were passionate about the subject material.