The Faculty of Arts & Science is proposing to implement a mandatory small class requirement for incoming first-year students, which would not take effect in the coming academic year but would encourage the faculty to build its small class offerings. The proposal comes amid increasing enrolment and the need for diverse course offerings throughout each department.
Students would be required to enrol in a half or full-year seminar in their first year of study. “We are considering making it a requirement that a small foundational seminar be taken by all students in their first year because we believe the small class experience is an ideal environment to help students transition to university studies, make early connections with peers and professors and start to develop the technical research and communication skills to support them through their degree and beyond,” said Sean Bettam, Communications & Media Relations Specialist for the faculty, in an email to The Varsity.
The faculty currently has several small-class offerings limited to first-year students, including the First-Year Foundation (FYF) One programs, which require external applications, and FYF Seminars capped at 30 students.
Both academically rigorous and competitive, the College One programs offer a variety of curated courses to arts and science students.
First-year seminars focus on timely topics, but do not count toward program requirements.
While these offerings are highly encouraged, students are not required to enrol in a small class.
However, other programs without existing small classes are restructuring in order to meet the demands of the requirement.
Charlie Keil, Principal at Innis College, spoke to The Varsity about the effects that the proposed changes would bring to Innis’ current offerings, commenting on the current challenges faced by these courses and the demands they would bring to the small sizes overall.
“The problem [with the 199 courses] was that because [students] didn’t have to take them, what would often happen is that students would end up dropping them not because they didn’t like them, but because they either wouldn’t fit in their schedule or the courses that they needed to take to get into a POSt would conflict,” said Keil.
New College’s One program will drop the external application in order to encourage engagement and overall make the experience much easier for students.
When asked about such a change, Keil said that “the idea… in eliminating application processes… was just to make [the Ones] that much easier when students make their choices in terms of the different kinds of small-class learning experiences, to try to just make it as streamlined as possible for students to try to reduce as many impediments.”
Other colleges share the same sentiments as Keil, both drawing on the advantages of smaller class sizes for incoming students and reflecting on the challenges of fitting in as many undergraduate students while offering a small class experience.
“Victoria College has long believed that small-class experiences bring tangible benefits. Together with the FYF initiative, we are working to expand the disciplinary diversity of Vic One Hundred offerings,” reads a statement to The Varsity from Victoria College’s Office of the Principal.
First-year students at Victoria College are already required to take a small class as part of their degree component. The application for the Vic One programs remains unchanged.
New College, on the other hand, is focusing on restructuring its courses in order to meet the larger incoming undergraduate population.
“At New One, we have updated all our courses — changing titles, updating their descriptions to better match content — and we will offer more courses next year. We stay committed to limiting our class sizes to 25 students and to offering interdisciplinary courses,” said Alexandra Guerson, Coordinator of the New One program.
“Since New College is the largest undergraduate college at the university, it would be challenging to accommodate every first-year New College student with the existing One programs across campus. We currently have over 1,000 first-year students and we are actively researching models for expanding our offerings without compromising the quality of the program.”
If approved, updated course offerings will be uploaded to the 2019–2020 academic calendar at the end of April. The policy is still in the consultation stages, but, if the faculty chooses to move forward with it, the new framework would eventually have to be approved by the Arts & Science Council.
Editor’s Note (February 25, 10:30 am): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the changes would be implemented in the upcoming academic year. In fact, the faculty will be beginning to build its small course offerings next school year. The Varsity regrets the error.