Dr. Melanie Doherty, professor of English, and Dr. Nicholas Steneck, associate professor of history, have received the honor of being selected to participate in the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) workshop on Deliberation & Debate: Advancing Civil Discourse through First-Year Courses in Washington, D.C., July 12–15, 2020. The team from Wesleyan College is one of only 20 teams from CIC member institutions, each comprising two faculty members, selected for this seminar.
The CIC workshop is designed for faculty members who teach first-year courses: a) orientations to classroom survival skills, b) expository writing courses, and c) the kind of “big ideas” seminars that lead students from their more limited experiences to learning about new ideas and discussing them with respect for others’ views. Through the workshop’s four days, faculty members will explore strategies and rhetorical practices that promote learning and civil discourse such as logical argument, use of evidence, formal debate, clear and persuasive writing, deliberative pedagogy, constructive disagreement, and empathic listening.
The very foundation of a Wesleyan liberal arts education, WISe 101 is an interdisciplinary seminar that introduces first-year students to academic life at Wesleyan, and focuses on honing academic skills, especially writing and critical thinking. It models Wesleyan’s diverse and challenging academic community and helps students make the transition to college. In WISe 101, students learn from faculty and lab instructors, and also teach each other—exploring divergent perspectives, deepening meaningful discussions, and working together to solve problems.
Wesleyan cares as much about the future as we do about our past, and so has partnered with the Interactivity Foundation to enhance WISe 101. One day a week students meet in small groups and facilitate their own class discussions. The discussions build on ideas from large, common sessions and faculty-led discussions, and require students to share their own experiences and ideas. Faculty serve as coaches to help students develop speaking and listening skills as participants, and planning and facilitation skills as discussion leaders. Groups stay the same the whole semester, so students develop close bonds, getting to know each other as thinkers and as people. The discussions are connected by the theme of the class—how do we become part of a community of learners? At the end of the semester, groups share their visions of a community of learners in a final PechaKucha showdown.