University of North Texas

UNT Insider | November 2012 issue | Blended class and learning communities improve learning experience for undecided freshmen

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Blended class and learning communities improve learning experience for undecided freshmen

From a UNT News Service press release

At most four-year colleges and universities, freshmen who have not declared majors spend their first semester taking core curriculum courses in English, science, math, history, political science and other subjects that the students may believe have no connection to each other.

But at UNT, nearly 400 students in the fall 2012 semester -- many of whom are freshmen who have not chosen majors -- are discovering how political science and psychology are connected in the course, Panic, Power & Persuasion. The course combines two courses, Political Science 1050 on American Government: Process and Policies, and Psychology 1630 on General Psychology. Students are considering the 2012 presidential election from both political science and psychological perspectives.

"We hope that by taking this class, students will begin to recognize the links between academic disciplines, and that learning is more than a list of classes to check off before receiving a degree," says Wendy Watson, lecturer of political science who teaches the course with Adriel Boals, associate professor of psychology. "We thought that a presidential election year was an ideal time to offer a class on factors that shape political attitudes. And I hope that students who take this course will become more informed citizens and feel empowered to participate in the political process."

Students taking Panic, Power & Persuasion fulfill core curriculum credit requirements in psychology and political science for their bachelor's degrees. Watson and Boals say the course differs from psychology and political science courses that are offered separately because students work on a group project that combines both disciplines.

Boals says Panic, Power & Persuasion is a great way for students to understand two academic areas that impact our lives and culture.

"Even if the students decide to not major in political science or psychology after taking the course, they'll learn about persuasion techniques and selling themselves as the right choice -- skills that they can use to be successful in many careers," he says.

Panic, Power & Persuasion brings together freshmen who have not chosen a major into a Learning Community. A Learning Community also includes a First-Year Seminar course that provides students with enhanced skills for academic success, such as time management, goal setting and critical reading. The students in the seminar also do self-assessments on their interests to help them choose majors. And they have access to peer mentors, sophomores and juniors who plan out-of-class activities and remain available throughout the students' freshman year to answer their questions.

"Peer mentors are on the level of the freshmen. They tell them the real story -- student to student -- about making the transition from high school to college. Many were undecided freshmen themselves," says Dale Tampke, dean of Undergraduate Studies.

UNT started offering Learning Communities for undecided freshmen in 2010.

"Our main goal in Undergraduate Studies is to create structure for all students, including new freshmen who aren't already connected to an academic department because they haven't declared a major," Tampke says.

He noted that a large campus like UNT becomes more personal to freshmen when they're part of a small group of students who support each other in and out of the classroom.

"We've discovered that students in Learning Communities return to UNT for their sophomore year at a higher rate than other undecided students and they have higher grade point averages," he says.

Nancy Kolsti with UNT News Service can be reached at

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November 2012

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