First-Year Seminar/Learning Community Discoveries and Dreams: an Appreciative Inquiry
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Combined first-year seminar and learning community programs may have a high impact on college student engagement if they contain certain elements or practices. The purpose of the study was to discover student perspectives of participation in a combined first-year seminar and learning community program at a south Texas university to identify engaging elements from the learner perspective. Through an appreciative inquiry, participants were asked to recall impactful experiences from their participation and to make predictions about what would improve the experience for future students. The research questions that guided the study are: (1) What perspectives do participants express regarding their learning community participation? (2) What understanding or meaning emerges about participation in learning communities? (3) How do participants envision an engaging learning community experience? From focus groups, participants recalled past experiences in first-year seminar and learning communities to generate three major themes: Masterminded Blueprints, Islander Accountability Group, and Impostor to Islander. In their completion of written reflections, participants suggested elements to enhance future first-year seminar and learning community experiences and are represented by the theme Dreamwork. The understanding that emerged from participant perspectives of first-year seminar and learning community participation gave insight into how students describe their experiences as impactful. When compared to first-year seminar, learning community, and high-impact practice research, participant recollections accounted for nearly all the suggested components of effective first-year seminar and learning communities included in the literature. While participants reported a variety of student-centered practices, a common intellectual experience among all participants was not discovered suggesting the need for a more thorough understanding of the purpose and value of first-year seminar in learning communities at the south Texas university.