Virginia Commonwealth University

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Focused Inquiry Program: About

Information for Prospective Students

Q:What does “Focused Inquiry” mean?

“Inquiry” means an active investigation for knowledge. Researchers and scholars take part in inquiry when they make a new discovery or figure out a solution to a problem. Our class is called “Focused Inquiry” because we model the basics of this important academic skill. Most college classes are, literally, “focused inquiries.”

Q:How is FI different from English 101?

FI is a two semester course sequence that covers some of the same material as a traditional composition class, along with the addition of critical thinking and oral communication skills not necessarily covered in writing classes. In addition to introducing college-level writing, FI covers the conventions of academic scholarship, collaborative work, conducting university-level research, ethical reasoning, quantitative reasoning, problem solving, and critical analysis of current and past events.

Q:What happens in an FI class?

FI classes incorporate small group discussion, activities, debates, case study analyses, presentations, peer review, and other active learning methods. Lecture is minimal because “inquiry” is an active, rather than a passive, experience.

Q:How do students benefit from FI?

FI classes cover an introduction to academic culture, including scholarship, citation styles, paraphrasing and citing sources, working collaboratively, conducting academic research, giving presentations, and problem solving through ethical and quantitative reasoning and critical analysis of current and past events.

Research shows that students need active, collaborative support to do their best during their first year of college. The FI program offers this by keeping students together in a cohort for their first and second semesters at VCU. The shared elements of the program, including a summer reading book, winter break assignment, and end-of-the-year expo, add to this shared experience.

Q:Who are my FI instructors?

FI instructors all have significant teaching experience in higher education, specifically teaching first-year college students. Instructors come from a variety of fields, such as sociology, philosophy, mathematics, English, and creative writing, but they all share a background in pedagogy (the study of teaching and learning). A number of FI instructors have published and presented in the field of pedagogy throughout the United States. The FI faculty combines an interdisciplinary background with a committed passion for teaching first-year college students.

Q:Who will be in my FI class?

Some FI sections are made up of students who live in the same dorms or share the same majors. Some FI sections are a mix of different majors, ages, backgrounds, and strengths. You should expect to meet people in FI who differ from you in some way, great or small. Since FI is a discussion-based class, a diversity of views, values, and experiences leads to an enriching class environment.

Information for Current Students

Q:Isn’t this just an English class?

In short: no. Traditional freshman English composition courses only focus on writing and the understanding and discussion of course readings. While writing and reading play a major role in 111 and 112, FI has much more to offer. As individuals and in groups, students practice critical thinking, decision making, ethical and quantitative reasoning and presentation delivery. The main goal of FI is to challenge students to rise to a new level of thinking about the world around us, one that is appropriate for entering students at a research-centered university. Focused Inquiry should also be viewed as the entry point for Core Education at VCU.

Q:Isn’t there another course after 111 and 112?

Yes! UNIV 200 is a required course that builds on the research, analysis and synthesis skills practiced in FI. Over a semester, students construct a lengthy academic argument paper based on a careful, scholarly examination of highly credible sources.

Q:Who gets to be an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant?

There are no formal requirements for the Undergraduate Teaching Assistant program other than the student must have passed both 111 and 112. Instructors select students from their own classes. Typically, the sought after qualities are: a mix of a positive and open personality, responsibility and maturity. Creativity and a solid speaking voice are bonuses. Because to some extent Teaching Assistants are models, candidates are solid students; however, students do not need to make an “A” to be nominated. (In fact, some A students would not make good TAs at all!) Not all FI instructors have TAs.

Q:Can I take it online?

Yes, but currently only in summer term. One hurdle is that Focused Inquiry hopes to build a community of face-to-face students and instructors. Online courses don’t naturally lend themselves to such relationships.

Q:Do all Focused Inquiry teachers teach the same material?

There are required learning outcomes for each unit of 111 and 112. All instructors must use the summer and winter readings at some point. Beyond these requirements, however, FI instructors have the freedom to choose their own readings, paper and presentation assignments and other activities.

Q:Why are we required to do summer and winter readings?

Summer and Winter Readings are part of the common experience that all FI students have regardless of instructor. Most first year programs across the nation now include a required common book as a way to bring entering students together. At VCU, the Summer reading brings not only students together but faculty, administrators and other employees of the university. Books are chosen to reflect the current Focused Inquiry theme, adding another dimension to the experience.

Q:How do I request an override for a Focused Inquiry class?

Email fioverride@vcu.edu from your VCU email account. Please include your V#, the course number, and a brief description of the error message you received in eService. If you have a CRN or time in mind, please include that information in your request.

Information for Current Faculty

Q:What material gets covered in FI?

FI classes cover an introduction to academic culture, including scholarship, citation styles, paraphrasing and citing sources, working collaboratively, conducting academic research, giving presentations, and problem solving through ethical and quantitative reasoning and critical analysis of current and past events.

Q:How does FI differ from traditional freshman composition? How will it benefit my students?

Students who have successfully completed FI can be expected to utilize library resources such as academic databases, write using scholarly support, cite and paraphrase, be familiar with at least one citation style, work collaboratively with their peers, explore different perspectives to solve a problem, and communicate effectively orally and in writing.

Q:What happens in an FI class?

FI classes incorporate small group discussion, activities, debates, case study analysis, presentations, peer review, and other active learning methods. Lecture is minimal because “inquiry” is an active, rather than a passive, experience.

Q:Who teaches FI?

FI instructors come from a variety of fields, such as sociology, philosophy, mathematics, English and creative writing, but they all share a background in pedagogy (the science of teaching and learning). A number of FI instructors have published and presented in the field of pedagogy throughout the United States. The FI faculty combines an interdisciplinary background with a committed interest in the scholarship of teaching and learning.