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FAQ

1. What is the First-Year Seminar? What's it about?
2. Huh? How so?
3. What is this course about, then? What do we do?
4. What's a "seminar"? What does that mean?
5. Why do I have to take FYS? How does FYS relate to my major?
6. Is this class all about new media and blogging and digital stuff?
7. Is this an English course?
8. What books do we read?
9. Who takes FYS?
10. Is there a course I can take at another school that will fulfill the FYS requirement?
11. Is FYS offered during the summer?
12. Who teaches FYS?
13. What is MilleFest?

1. What is First-Year Seminar? What's it about?
First-Year Seminar (FYS) is the foundation of the Core Curriculum in the Liberal Arts and Sciences. It is required of all first-year students.

FYS does not belong to any single field of study or rely on a sole means of communication. It is intentionally trans-disciplinary—that is, it allows students and faculty to integrate a number of different viewpoints and means of expression in considering questions in creative and critical ways.

Without meaning to be too dramatic, it's probably safe to say that FYS is unlike any course you've ever taken before.

2. Huh? How so?
The focus of this course is not on learning content in the traditional sense. This class is not meant to teach you specific dance techniques; methods for editing video; signs in ASL; nor dates, terms, and places. Instructors will not lecture. There is no textbook (though there are books). There are no exams. It is truly a seminar. (See below for more on what a seminar is.) The process of the class is what's key: in short, students will individually and collaboratively generate their own knowledge, rather than mastering knowledge already laid out for them.

Instructors will primarily be interested in seeing how energetic and dedicated you are in the process of thinking and exploring and collaborating. Perhaps more than in any other class, you must be active in order to get anything out of it. Enthusiastic participation is encouraged and a healthy skepticism is fine, but dogged resistance or complete disengagement just won't work.

"If a student has received no more than a packet of information at the end of an education transaction, that student has been duped. Good education teaches students to become both producers of knowledge and discerning consumers or what other people claim to know."
—Parker Palmer
3. What is this course about, then? What do we do?
We practice four things: questioning, exploring, communicating, and evaluating. These learning goals are at the heart of everything that educated citizens do, both in college and beyond.

We approach this larger theme through a series of topics, each of which uses a handful of texts that help to spark discussions.

In-class discussions and activities set the stage for students-individually and in small groups-to respond to these questions through Topic Studies and Rationales

4. What's a "seminar"? What does that mean?
A seminar is a class based on discussion. In a seminar, you don't come to class to hear an instructor tell you some material; instead, your instructor facilitates a conversation among you and your fellow students, focused around a question, an idea, or a text.

In a seminar, the students are responsible for generating knowledge through their engagement with the material. In a sense, each class period is an opportunity for students to share their findings or their research into whatever the topic for that day might be: the nature of identity, perhaps, or an approach to an ethical dilemma. In fact, the word 'seminar' comes from a Latin term that refers to a place where seeds are sown. In the First-Year Seminar, your instructor will sow the seeds of discussion, but it is up to students to nurture their growth.

In most class periods you can expect to contribute to a frank and honest discussion; exchange ideas; challenge and question assumptions; analyze art and writing in various forms; and all sorts of other fun stuff.

5. Why do I have to take FYS? How does FYS relate to my major?
FYS models the kind of inquiry and learning that are essential to life in college and beyond. We practice skills that will serve you well no matter what you do.  We ask questions that are complex, fundamental, and timeless, questions that great artists, scholars, and citizens have grappled with for millennia.

You may very well have come to Columbia to study a specific subject in order to get a job in a particular field and are wondering how FYS fits in with that plan. Since students from every major take this course, and since our curriculum is trans-disciplinary—it doesn't belong to any one field of study or inquiry—you can probably guess that this isn't the place to learn skills or techniques unique to a specific field.

This is a place, however, to start to look at the bigger picture—the biggest picture, actually. Through the variety of media and topics we discuss and through the wealth of knowledge you and your classmates bring to the table, you'll start to see more clearly the relationships among disciplines and career paths. You'll explore how the things you do in your major connect with a larger context: life, work, and art in the grandest sense of those terms.

The main focus will not be what you want to do with your life, but why you want to do it. A Columbia College Chicago degree, after all, isn't just about training in a major; it's an assemblage of skills, experiences, outlooks, and vision. That's a process that takes more than one semester, of course, even longer than a four-year college experience. It's a journey you've already started. We think of FYS as a way to bring that journey to another level and set the stage for the rest of your time at Columbia and beyond.

To make that journey, though, you have to be willing to travel with us. That's why FYS is a seminar (see above).

6. Is this class all about new media and blogging and digital stuff?
Not really. While the nature of learning, the availability of information, the ease of communication, and the responsibilities of citizens are much different now than they were 100, 50, or even 10 years ago, we believe that an educated citizen requires a thorough grounding in the past as well as a vision for the future. While we value (and often harness) the power of the internet, digital media, and other high-tech stuff in class, our principal interest in FYS is in generating sustained and genuine inquiry into some of humankind's most enduring questions and connecting that inquiry to a larger sense of purpose.

7. Is this an English course?
No. While FYS uses literature as some of the texts, the aims of the course and the way we respond to texts differ from most English courses.

8. What books do we read?
They're listed here, along with the guiding questions for each unit. 

9. Who takes FYS?
All new first-year students are required to take FYS, as are transfer students entering with 24 or fewer credits.

10. Is there a course I can take at another school that will fulfill the FYS requirement?
Nope.

11. Is FYS offered during the summer?
At this point, no.

12. Who teaches FYS?
FYS is taught by faculty from across Columbia's schools and departments, from Film & Video to Journalism to English and nearly everything in between. Faculty who choose to teach FYS do so because they are committed to exploring timeless questions in collaboration with students. They are not there to provide students with The Answers; they're there because they want you to help them figure out what those answers might be!

13. What is MilleFest?
MilleFest is a celebration of FYS student work that occurred once each semester between fall 2005 and fall 2009. Each class section of FYS nominated a small number of works for inclusion in the exhibit. You can see pictures from previous MilleFests, as well as lists of the students who contributed work for the exhibitions, here.