Category:A Guide to Designing Freshman Year Courses

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This Guide introduces a systematic process for designing Freshman Year (FY) and Core Curriculum courses. It is the product of the Task Force for the Freshman Year and Core Curriculum, appointed by the Provost in Fall 2011 to envision and re-design the freshman year for AUC students so the following become more efficient, integrated and effective:

  • Academic mentoring
  • Liberal arts exposure
  • English communication skills
  • Critical thinking

The first section of this Guide consists of introductory comments and the rationale for the re- design of the Freshman Year and Core Curriculum courses. This is followed by the FY Vision, Mission Statement, Core Values, and Strategic Goals, all of which reflect the philosophy underpinning the re-design of FY courses. The second section of the Guide presents (a) the general learning outcomes for the Freshman Year and (b) the specific student learning outcomes to be addressed in the courses. The third section contains an overview of the process for developing or refining FY courses and resources intended to aid course designers in ensuring their course syllabus addresses the intended student learning outcomes. These materials include a syllabus design checklist and a syllabus template. Finally, the Guide provides online resources relating to high impact practices and suggested pedagogies useful for achieving successful effective student learning in First Year courses.

Rationale for the Vision and Re-design of FY Courses

The purpose of envisioning and re-designing the FY and Core Curriculum courses was to address several concerns expressed by faculty. The main concern is that too many students entering their major study lack the communication skills(i.e., reading and writing skills) and critical thinking skills to meet the requirements deemed by faculty as essential to success in university work. Faculty have also complained that students entering major study do not know how to use and cite sources properly or have the ability to construct a logical argument based on proper use of evidence. In other words, too many students are being moved on to higher-levels of study without having acquired the necessary basic academic skills.

In order to address the problem of preparing students for university work in their major, the Freshman Year and Core Curriculum Task Force created a vision statement, a mission statement, a set of core values, and five strategic goals for the Freshman Year. These align with the AUC Mission, Vision, Values, and Learning Outcomes and provide students with a more effective and successful freshman year experience.

After some preliminary work had been done, the Task Force began to design a new framework, based on a two-semester year for the completion of most primary level courses. As a final step, learning outcomes in the crucial areas of critical and creative thinking skills, and five communication skills (oral, writing, critical reading, teamwork, and information literacy skills) were identified for use in designing new core courses.

The overarching metaphor encompassing the vision, mission, core values, learning outcomes, and the framework for students’ First Year is the concept of AUC as a “City for Learning” in the 21st century.

FY Vision

Our vision is to foster, through collaborative institutional effort, a broad, intellectually-engaging learning experience in the Freshman Year. It is during this time that students develop life-long commitments to learning, research and service, and competencies in effective communication, critical thinking, and ethical discernment in diverse, multi-cultural environments.

FY Mission Statement

Utilizing a liberal arts curriculum, the Freshman Year at the American University in Cairo (AUC) exposes students to a broad range of ideas across disciplines, enhances their critical thinking and communication skills, and introduces them to the core values of intellectual and personal integrity, civic responsibility, and respect for diversity. By engaging student curiosity through active and discovery-based approaches, meaningful and stimulating intellectual encounters, and a multi-cultural learning environment that expands beyond the walls of the classroom, these goals are accomplished. Students also gain an awareness of their abilities and interests, allowing them to make effective academic and lifelong choices. The curriculum for the Freshman Year is designed to instill in students a passion for learning and a sense of identity as a citizen of the AUC, region, and global community.

FY Core Values Definitions

The following core values underpin all academic and co-curricular programs and activities that support students in their Freshman Year:

Having the self-awareness, confidence, and ability to articulate clearly and respectfully one's own thoughts, ideas and opinions both orally and in writing. Self-expression also includes listening to others openly and respectfully.
Taking responsibility for one’s decisions, learning, actions, obligations, and successes. AUC students should display independence as they make academic and extracurricular choices, complete assignments, and acquire self-management and interpersonal skills.
Consistently being trustworthy, honest and fair. Every AUC student should exhibit integrity in academic work, extracurricular activities, and in their engagement with the wider community.
Intellectual curiosity
Developing the desire to know, the courage to question, and the willingness to invest time and energy into learning more about the world and ideas. It is the driving force behind creativity, innovation, problem solving, and scholarly research.
Civic Engagement
Having an understanding of social complexities, the ability to critically reflect on civic identity and realities, and a commitment to serve others at AUC, in the Egyptian community and throughout the world. AUC students should exhibit empathy and concern for peers, faculty, and the community, and engage them in an atmosphere of collaboration, respect for diversity, and awareness of ethical concerns.

FY Strategic Goals

The following are five strategic goals identified by the Freshman Year and Core Curriculum Task Force necessary for achieving the mission and the vision of the Freshman Year:

  1. The FY Program provides a uniform philosophy linked to a structured, integrated and collaborative curriculum/system that builds students’ skills and competencies.
  2. The FY Program introduces students (and their parents) to the benefits of the intellectual and social environment of a liberal arts education.
  3. The FY Program equips students with written and oral communication skills in English and enables them to transfer these skills to content courses so they are prepared to manage assignments in their majors.
  4. The FY Program enhances critical thinking and decision-making skills and their application in a variety of disciplines allowing students to make effective academic and lifelong choices.
  5. The FY Program fosters civic responsibility, personal and academic integrity, and appreciation of diversity.

FY Learning Outcomes

The Freshman Year curriculum program, along with specific co-curricular activities lays a strong foundation acquired by students by the end of their first year at AUC for the following general learning outcomes. These student-learning outcomes will be subsequently reinforced and built upon within the disciplines throughout each students’ educational career at AUC. By the end of the FY, students will have the ability to:

Think Critically
Analyze, Synthesize, Evaluate, Create
Read Critically
Comprehend, Respond, Evaluate, Connect
Express Themselves in Writing
Analysis, Argument, Research, Citation
Express Themselves Orally
Class Discussions, Presentations
Utilize Information Literacy Skills
Research, Source Evaluation, Acknowledgement of Sources
Work Effectively in Teams
Respect, Negotiation, Division of Labor

Articulating these learning outcomes and their distinctive incorporation in all FY courses will help to raise faculty and student awareness of the need for these skills beyond university, as a part of lifelong learning habits extending farther than the undergraduate years.

First Semester Learning Outcomes

By the end of the FY first semester, students will have the ability to:

    1. Engage in self-discovery and become aware of strengths and interests
    2. Ask pertinent questions
    3. Differentiate between facts and opinions
    4. Accurately summarize information
    5. Identify different elements or component parts in a variety of genres of texts and/or experiences
    6. Identify evidence-conclusion relationships (develop rational arguments)
    7. Analyze and evaluate arguments, explore options and draw conclusions
    8. Evaluate one’s own performance individually and on a team
    9. Present a scientific argument based on various sources
    1. Write analytically for a variety of contexts showing an awareness of audience and using appropriate persuasive strategies
    2. Formulate original and logical arguments with appropriate supporting evidence
    3. Write original responses to texts, a situation, or an idea
    4. Ability to integrate at least 5-8 sources into an essay
    5. Demonstrate an understanding of the writing process by incorporating feedback from one draft to another
    6. Respond to short, college-level, analytical assignments using appropriate voice,structure and style
    1. Appreciate the value of reading in a variety of genres, including media literacy
    2. Articulate responses and personal interpretations of a text
    3. Summarize the main points/arguments/counterarguments of readings with major supports
    4. Identify inferred meanings and implications of an argument or work of fiction
    5. Recognize missing elements/limitations of a text or argument
    6. Identify distinctive elements of a writer’s style including use of words and language, as well as appeals to emotion, logic, and ethics
    1. Contribute effectively to class discussions
    2. Ability to give short presentations about research done, texts read, or papers written
    3. Present cogent arguments and contribute to rebuttals in debates supported by substantive and reliable information
    1. Determine the extent and nature of information needed
    2. Access information efficiently and effectively
    3. Integrate and use information to accomplish a specific purpose
    4. Understand cultural, ethical, social, legal and economic issues surrounding the use of information
    5. Explain the AUC academic integrity policy in order to recognize and value ethics in an academic environment
    6. Utilize techniques to avoid plagiarism
    7. Locate books and other materials in the library collection in order to understand the organization and availability of resources
    8. Navigate the library website in order to efficiently access library materials
    9. Identify keywords and synonyms in order to conduct efficient and flexible searches
    10. Analyze websites in order to identify the most relevant and credible online resources
    1. Employ effective skills for effective group process, such as holding themselves and others accountable, employ problem solving strategies
    2. Give and receive feedback in planning and managing presentation tasks
    3. Create group cohesion by being open, trustful, supportive and respectful

Second Semester Learning Outcomes

By the end of their second semester, students will have the ability to:

    1. Relate skills and knowledge between one course and another
    2. Brainstorm new ideas and transform ideas/work into something new (creative thinking)
    3. Draw conclusions based on research findings
    4. Explore academic and career options and assess relevance to their interests and strengths
    5. Apply the critical thinking skills of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation to their own research in a variety of contexts and courses
    6. Generate original or creative solutions to complex problems
    1. Formulate research questions or hypotheses
    2. Organize sources on research topics in the form of a literature review
    3. Conduct primary or secondary research to suggest answers to research questions
    1. Evaluate main ideas and supports from a variety of academic books, articles, and other texts such as non-print media
    2. Articulate relationships between and among texts and other knowledge
    3. Infer and identify the author’s purpose, audience, tone, and other stylistic elements;
    4. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of an argument and of a research article
    1. Contribute to and occasionally lead class discussions
    2. Organize presentations on research findings, inter-textual threads and themes
    3. Deliver well-organized, logical, and informative presentations that demonstrate the ability to synthesize information from a variety of sources
    1. Demonstrate the ability to narrow or broaden a topic in order to choose appropriate and research topics and questions
    2. Critically read and evaluate information
    3. Determine which databases are most appropriate to use for stated purposes
    4. Describe the ways academic research is conducted in different fields and the methods and resources used in order to better understand the structure of academic disciplines
    5. Select information appropriate to needs
    6. Correctly cite sources, in order to create lists of references and avoid plagiarism
    7. Build search statements using keywords and search connectors in order to find the most relevant results within databases
    8. Distinguish between popular and scholarly periodicals, as well as primary and secondary documents in order to select the most appropriate resources for research
    1. Demonstrate willingness and ability to work cooperatively with others
    2. Understand and undertake specific roles on a team
    3. Take responsibility for contributing to presentations/performances and products

FY Pedagogies

In the new FY framework, teaching methodologies that encourage deep learning, active engagement, reflection, learning transfer, and integration are encouraged in all courses. Example pedagogies include the following:

  1. Discussion-based seminar courses with student debates and presentations
  2. A Reading Ladders Approach, which sequences the difficulty of texts
  3. Active learning/student centered tasks and activities
  4. Lectures/TED Talks with associated active learning component
  5. Project-based learning
  6. Community-based learning
  7. Experiential learning
  8. Portfolios/E-Portfolio
  9. Collaborative learning and team work

FY Course Requirement Overview

The Freshman Year Program aims to offer students a coherent, integrated introduction to one of the defining features of AUC: liberal arts education. In addition, the Program equips students with communication skills in English and enables them to transfer these skills to content courses so that they are prepared to cope with assignments in their majors, and enhances critical thinking skills and their application in a variety of disciplines. Finally, FY courses aim to help students think with clarity and insight about themselves, their goals and the decisions they face, and to foster their civic responsibility, personal and academic integrity, and appreciation of diversity.

For students entering AUC in the 2013-14 academic year, the Freshman Year Program consists of the following requirements: In their first semester, students begin as members of a “learning community:” small groups of students taking two closely linked classes together, a Rhetoric class (RHET 10XX) and a multidisciplinary seminar (CORE 10XX), that work in tandem to develop and enhance the reading, writing, critical thinking and general academic skills needed for success throughout study at AUC. The Program also includes six other required courses to be taken over the first three semesters: a second RHET course in research skills and writing, Scientific Thinking, Philosophical Thinking, Information Literacy, and two Pathways “Scientific Encounters” or “Cultural Explorations” courses.

Freshman Year.jpg

FY Course Requirements

  • RHET 1010/CORE 1010 Tandem (6 Credits)
  • RHET 1120 (3 Credits)
  • Scientific thinking (3 Credits)
  • LALT (0 Credits)
  • Philosophical Thinking (3 Credits) (3rd semester onwards)

FY Courses

Pathway 1: Scientific Encounters (3 credit hours plus 1 lab credit)

Examples of current courses that meeting the requirements for Pathway 1: Scientific Encounters.

BIOL 102 & SCI 150L Essentials of Environmental Biology
BIOL 103 Introductory Biology
BIOL 104 The Unity of Life
BIOL 105 Diversity of Life
CHEM 103 & SCI 150L Chemistry and Society (for students with no chemistry background)
CHEM 104 & SCI 150L Man and the Environment
CHEM 105 & SCI 150L General Chemistry I
PHYS 100 & SCI 150L Physics for Poets (for students with no physics background)
PHYS 199 & SCI 150L Selected Topic for Core Curriculum
SCI 105 & SCI 150L Science and Technology of Ancient Egypt
SCI 109 & SCI 150L Exploration of the Universe
SCI 240 & SCI 150L Chemistry, Art and Archaeology
SCI 250 & SCI 251L Introduction to Geology
MACT 112 & SCI 150L Statistical Reasoning
MACT 199 & SCI 150L Selected Topic for Core Curriculum

Pathway 2: Cultural Explorations

Students choose one course. Note: The course taken to fulfill the Humanities / Social Science requirement at the Secondary Level must be from a department other than the one offering the course taken to meet the Culture and Society requirement, and should be from a different discipline. The following list is representative: for an updated list of available courses, please see the Core Curriculum webpage or contact the Core Office. Most students will complete these requirements in their first three semesters.

AMST 199 Selected Topics for Core Curriculum
ARIC 100 Arabs and Muslims Encountering the Other
ARIC 199 Selected Topics for Core Curriculum
ARTV 199 Selected Topics for Core Curriculum
CORE 199 Selected Topics for Core Curriculum
ECLT 123 Experiencing Creativity: Texts and Images
ECLT 199 Selected Topics for Core Curriculum
FILM 199 Selected Topics for Core Curriculum
HIST 110 World Cultures
HIST 111 Big History for Freshmen
HIST 112 Truth or Fiction: History and Historical Fiction
HIST 114 A History of Modern Imperialism
HIST 122 Words That Made History: Great Speeches of the 20th Century
HIST 199 Selected Topics for Core Curriculum
MUSC 199 Selected Topics for Core Curriculum
PHIL 100 Reading Philosophy
PHIL 199 Selected Topics for Core Curriculum
SEMR 123 Celebrating Ideas: A Voyage Through Books, film, Art and Theater
SEMR 199 Selected Topics for Core Curriculum
THTR 130 The World of the Theatre
THTR 199 Selected Topics for Core Curriculum
ANTH 199 Selected Topics for Core Curriculum
CORE 199 Selected Topics for Core Curriculum
ECON 199 Selected Topics for Core Curriculum
EGPT 199 Selected Topics for Core Curriculum
POLS 101 Introduction to Political Science
SOC 199 Selected Topics for Core Curriculum

Semester Outline

First Semester: Navigating the City for Learning

Key areas of focus: Transition from high school teaching and learning to the more demanding, rewarding and responsible atmosphere of learning in a university. Forging new identities through self-discipline and independence, but at the same time building a sense of community among the entering freshman cohort.

Key questions: Who am I? How do we build our identities? How will a liberal arts education at AUC contribute to our identities as adults?

Learning and Thinking Skills Emphasis: Analysis, Synthesis, Evaluation

Key activities:

  • Liberal arts lectures integrated with course work will be developed; students will attend FYE activities and presentations on registering for classes, academic concerns of students, and related topics.
  • Participation in a new Citizenship Institute, developed by the Office of Student Development.

Typical First Semester (16 credit hours total):

  • 9-13 credits Freshman Core courses
    • 6-credits: RHET 1010 PLUS CORE 1010 “Freshman Writing Seminar” – a “learning community” experience. RHET 1010 and CORE 1010, taught in tandem to the same group (of about 18) students, together represent a single theme-based writing-intensive course, which combines former RHET 101/102 (focusing on analysis/argument) with a small seminar course, modeled on existing classes such as such as SEMR 111 The Human Quest, and SEMR 112 Who Am I?
    • 3-4 credits: Pathway Course (Discipline-based course, with lab, taught by full-time faculty of SSE for “Scientific Encounters” (STEM) or “Cultural Explorations,” taught by HUSS/ECON faculty)
    • 3 credits Scientific Thinking (SCI 120) -- Either first or second semester

Second Semester: Connecting to the World

Key areas of focus: Build skills, competencies, and liberal arts exposure with an emphasis on individual growth and exploring ideas within a sophisticated learning environment. Creativity and independence are combined with responsibility; there is emphasis on more academic rigor, with awareness of current issues and a cultural and global identity. At present, this will be achieved through the Pathway “Cultural Explorations” course, augmented in future by SEMR 1120 classes, such as The Desert, Water in the Future, or Modern Egypt: Can the People Rule? In these courses students will be exposed to different majors by exploring different perspectives on a single, topical issue or enduring theme.

Key questions: Where am I in my career/major exploration, in historical time, geographically in the world? How do we take what is and imagine another possibility? What kinds of relationships exist between what is and what could be or between two variables?

Learning and thinking skills emphasis: Creativity, building on the analysis, synthesis, and evaluation foundation

Key activities:

  • Present at Freshman Poster session in Annual EURECA Conference

Required credit hours (15 credits total):

  • 6 - 9 credits Freshman Core courses
    • 3 credits RHET 1120 (currently RHET 201): Research Skills Course with Information Literacy learning outcomes incorporated.
    • 3 credits Pathways Course (Discipline-based course, with lab, taught by full-time faculty of SSE for “Scientific Encounters” (STEM) or “Cultural Explorations,” taught by HUSS/ECON faculty)
    • 3 credits Scientific Thinking (SCI 120) -- Either first or second semester

Third Semester: Applying Skills to the Majors

Key areas of focus: Courses building on the all first year skills, learning outcomes, and courses.

Required credits (15 credits):

  • 12 Credits: Major Courses
  • 3 Credits: PHIL 220: Philosophic Thinking


  • It is understood that SSE students, particularly engineering majors, will move through the Freshman Year and Core course progression at a different rate, due to their demanding and highly structured programs.
  • LALT 101 (0 credit) will be required for graduation. The learning outcomes of LALT 101 will ultimately be integrated into the FY course offerings.

First-Second Sem.jpg

Course Development and Re-design

These courses are to be developed with the ultimate goal of creating or re-designing courses that incorporate FY learning outcomes, provide engaging teaching and learning approaches and employ active learning strategies. Learning outcomes outlined in Section II must be considered and appropriately incorporated into all courses developed or re-designed for the FY. Course titles should reflect the theme of the course and when applicable the inter-disciplinary nature of the course. Faculty from the different disciplines are encouraged to try innovative teaching methods, collaborate on course design and instruction and come together to build an engaging and exciting FY program across the disciplines with authentic teaching and learning experiences that help students think about relevant and complex problems.

An example of a successful FY course could be either a first-semester CORE or a second semester SEMR course that helps fill the following voids or gaps in the undergraduate curriculum (Adapted: correspondence from Joseph B. Cuseo, Ph.D.)

These seminars can:

  • infuse a student-centered course into an otherwise faculty-centered curriculum.
  • embed a transferable skills/strategies course into an otherwise content coverage-driven curriculum.
  • add an applied, cross-disciplinary course to an otherwise theory-laden, discipline-bound curriculum.
  • provide new students with a meaningful introduction and overview/preview/gateway to the college curriculum

Categories for Course Development

Course Cat.jpg

Course Development Guidelines: Sample Templates and Syllabi

To view FY Course Materials such as, syllabi, rubrics, assignments etc, please see the FY Course Materials Repository.

Checklist for FY Course Development and Submission

  1. Will a range of teaching and assessment methods and materials be used to respond to diverse learner preferences?
  2. Are proposed teaching / assessment methods and materials appropriate for FY students?
  3. Have active learning strategies been identified to address the development of identified critical thinking and communication skills?
  4. Are there at least 2 FY learning outcomes integrated into the FY course design?
  5. Is there alignment between learning outcomes and teaching / assessment methods?
  6. Are current facilities sufficient to support proposed teaching/learning activities?
  7. Has the credit value/core credit for this course been considered?
  8. Does the syllabus adhere to the guidelines for senate approved syllabus requirements?
  9. Is the course sustainable, i.e., can it easily be taught by other faculty in my department?
  10. Have I requested a consultation with the Center for Learning and Teaching (CLT) to refine and adapt my course syllabus?

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