Written by Dr. Travis L. Martin, First-Year Courses Administrator, Director of the Kentucky Center for Veterans Studies, Faculty Innovator-in-Residence, Eastern Kentucky University
The Benefits of Using Perusall in a First-Year Seminar Course
Do you run a large department or another academic program? Are you looking to achieve greater consistency in the content taught across your course sections? What if you could do this while reinforcing student learning and retention of knowledge? Perusall can help with all these things… and more.
Among other roles, I am my school’s first-year courses administrator. Our office designs freshmen seminars for in-person, online, and hybrid environments, supporting the needs of faculty in 120+ courses housed in seven different colleges or academic units. I design the freshman seminar’s curriculum and help those instructors tasked with teaching it.
Our vice president for student success once asked me to “be a bridge between faculty and staff.” I quickly realized what he meant. Our instructors range from academic advisors to tenure track faculty, to university leaders and student support staff. Our 16-week seminars teach everything from study strategies to curricular requirements, to teambuilding, to tech skills, to financial literacy, and to interpersonal violence prevention.
We also have a number of internal and external stakeholders who compete for time in our courses. There’s a whole slate of guest presenters. They want our freshmen to be successful. They want them to know about our amazing people, places, and programs. And we are among the few programs on campus that get face-time with every incoming student.
Course designs are important, but if I am being honest, it is the personal bonds that our students build with their seminar instructors that have the greatest impact on their chances of making it to graduation. We want to maximize the time our instructors have to bond with their students, learn about their varied issues, and teach them how to solve problems using campus resources. And we need to do this while ensuring state and university-mandated content makes it into every course.
Flipping our seminar classrooms with Perusall gave our instructors more time while reinforcing student learning and accomplishing our mission.
To learn more, register for a Perusall webinar and see how Perusall can save you time while helping student engagement and retention.
After deciding to move our first-year seminar textbook to Perusall, it took several months of consensus-building meetings, designing and redesigning modules, and preparing the course to deliver a good portion of its content through our favorite social e-reader.
A few years later, I can single-handedly prep 120+ instructors’ courses to operate with Perusall without them clicking a button. Here is how it works. Each year, I
- Send the year’s custom textbook edits to our publisher, who then provides the next edition to the team at Perusall;
- Use the textbook to create assignments with preloaded questions and evaluation criteria;
- Revise the corresponding prompts that are preloaded alongside the learning management system’s links to the Perusall platform;
- Open Perusall from within each instructor’s course and copy everything – the textbook, assignments, and grading criteria – with two clicks and an access code; and,
- Finally, ensure that our students get information about how to access their Perusall textbook in new student orientations, their syllabi, and the course itself.
I can do all of this in about one working day. Students need not worry about access codes because of our first-day delivery program. Instructors worry even less:
- Every student has their textbook, no questions asked.
- No need to worry about copying over the Perusall assignments or setting them up in the grade center - I take care of all that.
- The people at firstname.lastname@example.org are always quick to respond to questions and requests for support from students and instructors alike.
You might ask, “Shouldn’t instructors be setting up their own courses?” Or “What about academic freedom?”
All of our instructors teach first-year seminars in addition to their full-time roles. Each one has a different teaching philosophy. And their rationales for what sorts of content need to be included in a freshman seminar are equal parts valid and germane to their experience, passions, and subject-matter expertise.
We achieve consensus by allowing our instructors to author sections of the textbook and through yearly curriculum meetings. Also, the textbook is only one aspect of the course. Instructors have the freedom to teach that content using my preloaded settings and questions, or to tailor it to their needs. The remaining content can be delivered even more flexibly.
My 8-10 hours each summer gets multiplied by a number equal or greater to the number of instructors who no longer have to put in the labor I do for them. Potentially, thousands of hours are saved in departments and programs and classrooms across the university.
From an administrative perspective, Perusall helps our office achieve greater transparency and consistency. It delivers our content using some of the best knowledge derived from the scholarship of teaching and learning. And, anytime I take a moment to review annotations in the platform, I can tell the students are more engaged with the textbook than ever before. I would say that it is a win-win.