The University of Iowa

First-Year Seminars

Four Pillars of a First-Year Seminar


Instructors: Guiding Principles & Framework for Course Design

First-Year Seminar instructors are highly engaged in student development and have an active, important role in their students' transition to college. All First-Year Seminars are developed around the following Four Pillars of a First-Year Seminar. By incorporating these research-based guiding principles and consistent framework for course design into each seminar, the role these courses (and instructors) have in students' collegiate success is strengthened.

Instructors should note that these are guiding principles and framework for course design, not content directives. First-Year Seminar curriculum is determined by individual instructors and developed around these four pillars.


Academic Inquiry

Active Learning

Community & Connectedness

Exploration of Identity

Student Engagement in Academic Inquiry Student Participation through Active Learning A Course that Builds a Sense of Community & Connectedness Student Exploration of Identity through Self-Authorship

First-Year Seminars serve as an introduction to the process of discovering, exploring, and analyzing academic questions and developing critical academic skills within a specific field of study, topic, or discipline.


"Active learning is commonly defined as activities that students do to construct knowledge and understanding. The activities vary but require students to do higher order thinking. Although not always explicitly noted, metacognition- student's thinking about their own learning- is an important element, providing the link between activity and learning."

"Approaches that promote active learning focus more on developing students' skills than on transmitting information and require that students do something- read, discuss, write- that requires higher-order thinking. They also tend to place some emphasis on students' explorations of their own attitudes and values."

First-Year Seminar classrooms are inclusive learning environments that foster positive relationships, recognize and celebrate differences and diversity among all participants, and contribute to a more enriching collegiate experience.

Per the University of Iowa's 2019-2021 Excellence through Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Action Plan, inclusion refers to a campus community where all members are and feel respected, have a sense of belonging, and are able to participate and achieve to their potential. While diversity is essential, it is not sufficient. An institution can be both diverse and noninclusive at the same time, thus a sustained practice of creating inclusive environments is necessary for success.

"Developing self-authorship, [is] the internal capacity to construct one's beliefs, identity, and social relations" (Evans et al, 2010, p. 184).

Students enrolled in a First-Year Seminar participate in the key developmental process of asking themselves: Who am I? How do I know? and How do I construct relationships with others?

This is often done through writing or other work that fosters reflection and provides an opportunity for students to process what they're learning and how this new knowledge contributes to their personal development.



Student Expectations: What is a First-Year Seminar?

Four Pillars of a First-Year Seminar: Student Perspective

First-Year Seminars introduce new, first year students to important principles and academic expectations that will help them be successful at the University of Iowa. By enrolling in a First-Year Seminar, students can expect:


Student Engagement in Academic Inquiry
Collaborate with faculty to discover, explore, and analyze academic questions and develop critical academic skills within a specific field of study or topic.


Student Participation through Active Learning
First-Year Seminar students are motivated and inspired to actively engage in their learning and skill development.


A Course that Builds a Sense of Community and Connectedness
Participate in an inclusive learning environment and smaller classroom setting that fosters positive relationships, recognizes and celebrates diversity and differences, and contributes to a more enriching collegiate experience.


Exploration of Identity through Self-Authorship
Address important questions that contribute to your personal development. Who am I? How do I know? How do I relate to those around me?



Sources include, but are not limited to: