Small Group Discussion Background for UWS Instructors
What Are Small Group Discussions?
Small Group Discussions (SGD) were initiated in Fall 2019 when the Brandeis Core was first implemented. During the Fall 2020 semester, more than 200 first year students attended 26 discussions led by Brandeis Faculty Ambassadors. Students participated in order to connect with faculty and other students, learn about academic departments, share thoughts about academic life, and/or to fulfill an experiential learning assignment for certain UWS instructors.
In Spring 2021, approximately 25 SGD sessions will be offered, and the invitation to lead a session is extended to all faculty members. These informal 50-minute sessions of five-to-ten participants are specifically designed for all first year undergraduates to get to know faculty members and other first year students, and are a way to build a sense of belonging for students learning on campus and remotely.
A fall 2020 survey showed that students reported enjoying their time with professors and other students. However there was some confusion about the purpose of the meeting -- was it academic? Was it social? Was it homework? To be more clear about the goal, this spring faculty discussion leaders will choose one of two topics in advance. This should help students choose the session most likely to interest them. The topics are:
- Professor's area of study and career path
- Faculty are asked to describe their academic and professional background which could lead to conversations about specific majors, advanced degrees and career paths, how writing skills are used in different fields, and how getting to know faculty members can help students determine their academic and career paths.
- Adjusting to university-level academics
- Faculty are asked to lead conversations about how to start and finish the semester strong, offer suggestions on getting to know faculty, explain the importance of writing skills in any major, address questions/concerns about balancing curricular and co-curricular activities, and highlight resources on campus.
Faculty leaders are provided with a tip sheet to help them prepare for the student meetings. The Fall 2020 version, which will soon be revised to reflect the two new topics, is included below.
Please encourage all of your students to attend a Small Group Discussion, whether or not you assign one as an experiential learning activity. Any opportunity for students to connect with faculty and peers is valuable, particularly during this unusual school year.