L&S Curricular Connections

Freshman & Sophomore Seminars

Connections at Cal Seminars

This webpage is an archive of the Connections at Cal Seminars initiative, which concluded in 2015.

Freshman and Sophomore Seminars often result in long-lasting bonds among the participants. Connections at Cal Seminars were created to intentionally foster such relationships, both with a potential faculty mentor and your fellow students. Choose a C@C Seminar if you value sustained intellectual relationships, if you would like to stay in touch with your professor and the other students in the seminar after the semester ends, continuing to share links, photos, internship postings, texts and other items related to the topic of your seminar. The connections will be sustained both in person and through a special social networking site devoted to your seminar. Interested faculty should consult the C@C FAQ.

Connections at Cal Program Fall 2011 Review

A group of people smiling on a coastline at Bodega Bay
Chelsea Specht's PMB 24 class from fall 2011 reunited in spring 2012 for a field trip, as part of the Connections@Cal program.

Connections @ Cal Faculty FAQ

What are the Connections at Cal Seminars?
Connections at Cal Seminars are regular Freshman and Sophomore Seminars whose instructor and students keep in touch — both in person and on a special Seminar Site created for the class — after the semester ends. The Freshman and Sophomore Seminars have often resulted in informal mentoring relationships between the instructor and the students, and in lasting connections among the students. The Connections at Cal Seminars are designed to formalize–and make it easier to create and maintain–these kinds of sustained relationships.

How will they work?
From the outset of the semester, you will set up the expectation that you are building a lasting academic relationship. We will provide internet templates (see below) and assistance to create your Seminar Site. You can use this website throughout the semester as a place where you and your students can share resources, links, photos, event invitations and the like. Then, after the seminar ends, you will stay in touch both through your shared site and in person.

What will I be expected to do after my seminar ends?
Post to your Seminar Site now and then, and review and reply to what the students post. If something related to your seminar topic comes to your attention, use the Seminar Site as a way to share it with your students and keep their interest in the topic alive. We also hope you will have an occasional face-to-face reunion with the class or an interested subset of your students. The Seminar Site can help you organize these reunion activities, such as pizza parties or a group excursion to an event or exhibit related to the mutual interests you have developed in the seminar. It’s up to you how long you want to keep the connection going — at least through their sophomore year, but even longer if you and the students seem to be benefiting from it.

Why would I want to make my seminar a Connections at Cal Seminar?
“I wish the seminar were not ending so soon!” is a comment that appears frequently in both the student evaluations and the faculty feedback forms. It can be very rewarding to stay in touch with a group of bright, motivated students with whom you have developed a connection based on the exploration of a topic of mutual interest. Another, more selfless, reason is that the students will benefit from sustained contact with you and a group of students they have met in an academic as opposed to purely social context. Also, a Seminar Site can be a good way for students to share information about events, articles, job and research opportunities related to the subject of the seminar.

What options do I have for the Seminar Site component of the program? What if I want to use a different system from those you are recommending?
We are encouraging the use of the Townsend Humanities Lab or Facebook Groups. If you choose one of these two systems, we will be able to provide support, including assistance in setting up and administering your Seminar Site throughout the life of the seminar and beyond. If you decide you want to use a different system, we will unfortunately be unable to give you the same level of support since we may be unfamiliar with the system you choose. We are exploring other systems in an attempt to make more options available, especially to those teaching science-related topics.

How should I decide between the Townsend Humanities Lab or Facebook (or a system of my choosing)?
We’ve compiled some pros and cons for each:
Townsend Humanities Lab
– shared calendar & event invitations
– shared documents: wikis, text & image annotation
– semi-customizable look & feel
– hosted on campus
– less familiar user interface

Facebook Group
– students may already have facebook accounts and will not need to manage another login account
– shared documents, pictures, chat
– familiar user interface
– students will know how to navigate the group site
– any seminar topic is fine
– everyone in the class needs a facebook account (including you!)
– students may have reservations about using Facebook for their classes, not wanting their academic life invading their personal space

Other system
– you’ve been dying for a chance to use it
– you are already familiar with how to use it
– we can’t guarantee that we’ll be able to help if any problems arise

What kind of privacy concerns should I have?
Both systems allow group sites to be open (fully public) or closed (private, for members only). There may be advantages to having your seminar open or closed depending on the nature of your course.

An advantage to having an open site would be to allow for discussion with communities outside of the class. You may wish for your seminar to interact with similar-minded groups or individuals on your site. However, students may be concerned about the persistence and searchability of the content they produce on the web. Their participation may be affected if they know that other students outside of the seminar or even future employers will be able to discover their posts. By closing your seminar site to the public, you ensure that only the people whom you designate will be able to access your seminar’s content.

Another concern you and your students may have about Facebook Groups is the privacy of Facebook profile content. Do note that for Facebook Groups, members of your seminar’s group page will not automatically become friends with the other members in that group and will therefore not be able to see one another’s Facebook profile content unless that content is public.

Furthermore, your Seminar Site should not disclose “educational records,” such as grades, other personally identifying information, or “those records that contain information directly related to a student and which are maintained by an educational agency or institution or by a party acting for the agency or institution.” (http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/students.html)

What happens when I teach this seminar again?
You have two options. First, you could create an entirely new Seminar Site that is unique to the particular seminar you are teaching at the moment. Second, you could invite the new students to join the previous Seminar Site. These students will have access to all content that the previous seminar students have generated, and can build their discussions and contributions off the previous seminar’s content.

Depending on the nature of your seminar, you may be inclined to choose one option over the other. If you have built a rapport with the first group that you fear may be compromised by adding a group of strangers into the mix, you may want to make a new site for each group. The benefits of inviting the new group to join the existing site would include an expanded cohort of students sharing a wider array of events, articles, job and research opportunities. And the infusion of new energy from the second group might re-energize the original group.

Another benefit for you of adding subsequent groups to the original site would be that you would not have to re-post any items of interest, or stay current with two (or more) groups at a time.

What kinds of in-person activities would be appropriate for a Connections at Cal Seminar?
It’s important to build those face-to-face connections in addition to the online connections. One faculty member from the pilot program suggests organizing one group activity mid-way through the semester in which your seminar is taught, and another near the end of the semester, to cement those relationships. Some parts of the activity should include the professor, but others can be done without him or her. For instance, you can attend a musical event or literary reading together, and then afterwards the students can go out for a bite to eat. Field trips related to your seminar topic are a great option, but it’s also fine to take a field trip that helps familiarize your students with their new home: the Bay Area is a great place to explore. Ideally you would continue to organize reunion activities for the year or two following the end of the semester in which you taught the seminar, and make it clear to your students that you are available for one-on-one mentoring after the semester ends.

How will I pay for these group activities?
When you sign up to teach a Connections at Cal Seminar, you will be awarded $500 from the Freshman and Sophomore Seminars office, thanks to the generosity of a donor to the program. If you expend these funds on activities with your students you may apply for up to $500 more in a subsequent semester to support reunion activities by emailing us. If you are teaching a Connections at Cal Seminar you are eligible for these funds whether or not you are a Senate faculty member. If a seminar is team taught, a total of $500 will be awarded (not $500 per instructor).

Grant Guidelines

Connections at Cal Seminars were launched as an offshoot of the Freshman and Sophomore Seminars in fall 2011. The purposes of the program are to promote cohort building among the students in the seminar, and to formalize the faculty mentoring that often occurs informally as a result of the connections forged in Freshman and Sophomore Seminars. In Connections at Cal Seminars the students and faculty members will forge strong bonds that will last beyond the end of the term—at least through the following year, but potentially through graduation.

In order to help the faculty members teaching these seminars build strong bonds with and among their seminar students, we are providing $500 for cohort-building activities.

Who is eligible to receive the C@C grant?
Anyone who is eligible to teach a seminar is potentially eligible to receive a grant. If you are scheduled to teach a seminar in an upcoming semester, let our office know you would like to make it a C@C seminar and we will add you to our list.

Are lecturers and GSIs eligible to receive a C@C grant?
Unlike the regular Freshman and Sophomore Seminars grant, the C@C grant may be awarded to anyone, including a lecturer or GSI, who has already been determined to be eligible to teach a seminar, as long as that instructor will be at Cal and willing to sustain the connection with his or her students for at least a year after the seminar ends.

When should I let you know I want my seminar to be a C@C Seminar?
Ideally you would let us know when you sign up to teach the seminar, but at the latest please let us know a month before the seminar starts. We will need some lead time to set up your Seminar Site for you.

What can I spend the C@C grant funds on?
You can spend it on anything that will help you build camaraderie among your students. You can take the students on a field trip related to the topic of your seminar, for instance, or you can do something more social together, within usual university guidelines pertaining to entertainment expenses.

What is the policy on team teaching?
The grant is $500 per seminar, so in the case of a team-taught seminar the amount would still be $500.

When can I start spending the grant?
We will transfer the funds to your department for your use early in the semester in which you teach the C@C seminar, so that you can engage in cohort-building activities during the semester.

What happens if I stay in touch with my students for so long that the original $500 runs out?
If this happens, contact us and petition for additional funds, as needed (and as available).