For prospective faculty

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Any member of the University of Wisconsin–Madison faculty is welcome to propose a First-Year Interest Group.

A First-Year Interest Group is a cluster of (usually) three UW courses, linked together to explore a common theme, and offered to incoming freshmen who attend these classes together as a cohort.

read more about “What is a FIG?”

Proposals for new FIGs, or changes to existing FIGs, are usually completed by mid-October, for courses offered in the following Fall semester. For fall 2018 FIGs, we would like to receive your proposal by October 27, 2017. The majority of FIGs are offered only in the Fall, when new students most need the kind of peer and faculty support created by a FIG. A few FIGs are offered in the Spring semester. Spring FIGs are proposed during the preceding summer. Fall FIGs usually include three courses, spring FIGs usually include only two courses. If you are interested in teaching a FIG, please contact the FIGs Director at: nathan.phelps@wisc.edu.

Building a FIG

As the lead instructor, you start by establishing the theme or topic of the FIG. This theme will be reflected in the content of the main course, which you will teach, and the linked courses, taught by others.

Keep in mind that FIGs are available only to first-year students.

  • What topics might appeal to freshmen starting their education at UW–Madison?
  • What topics are broad enough to benefit from an interdisciplinary approach?
  • What might be the “hook” to encourage students to join your FIG?

If you have limited experience working with first-year students, think about how you might re-frame an existing course to make it appropriate for new students. Reach out to the FIGs Program staff to discuss your ideas (see contact info at the bottom of this page).

Your main course will be a small-enrollment seminar—no more than 20 students—that actively integrates and synthesizes the material from the linked courses. It can be a course that already exists in the University catalog, or it can be a special topics course created by you.

When considering possible linked courses, look for subjects that complement or support the main course. Ideally, courses in the FIG will fulfill some general-education or breadth requirements, or help the student prepare for entry to a major or program.

If you have ideas about some linked courses that might be a good fit, please include these in your proposal. We can also help you discover courses that might be a good fit with your topic. So, if you want to leave this section blank, that is fine; we will come up with some ideas and share them with you.

Once the FIG is created, we encourage FIG instructors to be in communication with the instructors of the linked courses, to share syllabi, and to explore ways to integrate that material into the main course.

We are always available to discuss your ideas, help identify linked courses, and double-check requirements.

Cohort learning

Students flourish in FIGs in part because of the social connections they make by participating in a small-scale learning community. They attend both your main course and the linked courses together. 

When the linked courses are large enough to have discussion sections, FIGs staff will arrange a single dedicated section for the students in your FIG.

Many FIG instructors develop co-curricular activities to support student engagement and learning. These could be field trips close to campus or far afield, themed dinners, opportunities for service learning or volunteering, or an optional study-abroad component. If you would like to discuss how to incorporate co-curricular activities in your FIG or whether funding is available to support your ideas, please get in touch with us for more information.

Benefits for you

Rediscover the joy of small-scale classroom teaching! FIG students are, on average, highly engaged, committed, and enthusiastic. Because they attend classes together, they are frequently more comfortable participating in discussions, forming study groups for assignments and projects, and they feel more accountable to attend every class.

FIG faculty often develop new collaborative relationships with the instructors of the linked courses. They describe the opportunity to engage in interdisciplinary teaching as “unmatchable” and “the most memorable part of the experience.” In addition, many FIG instructors report that teaching a FIG positively affects the way they teach their non-FIG courses, and some report that their FIG experience has helped to transform their research agenda.

Leading a FIG is an excellent way to:

  • provide service to your department and the campus
  • contribute directly toward student diversity and retention efforts
  • teach a small class section
  • develop a new course, or find a new approach to teaching an established course
  • collaborate with colleagues in other disciplines.

FIG instructors receive a S&E stipend and we encourage them to use at least some of these funds to support their FIG. Supplemental funds for additional out-of-classroom activities may be available from the First-Year Interest Groups Program. Please contact us to learn about these opportunities.