The seed for the class was planted in the 1970’s during Spector’s freshman year at college. She had moved from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Houston, Texas, and the transition was tough.
“I was immediately famous in my dorm as ‘that girl who cried all the time’ because I was an extremely homesick freshman for the first semester,” said Spector, an English professor and director of Academic First Year Experiences at CSUN. ”I just had a terrible time adjusting to college. I spent all of my time crying, working and worrying that I might not pass my courses but I did pass my courses. And when I came back from my winter break, I realized that I’d also made terrific friends.”
This rocky start to college life would eventually lead her to developing the Academic First Year Experiences program at CSUN, which provides opportunities for faculty to help new students make a successful transition to the university.
Along the way, Spector has embraced technology to assist with the transformation of University 100.
Initially, she and other faculty shared syllabi, readings and lesson plans for University 100 on wikis and blogs. As this grew, the process became unwieldy and the classes made the move to Moodle last spring.
“Our Moodle version of University 100 is like a street map of Washington D.C.— everything is arranged logically, similar to the way streets are named with numbers and letters in (parts of) D.C. Our Moodle is also orderly, even modular — a word I never thought I would utter with happiness. But now I do, because I see the value of having a course in logical chunks,” she said.
Spector has also moved away from textbooks. “What we’re doing is better than a textbook, which is always monolithic. Textbooks are all one voice, assembled by an editorial team into a nice, expensive package.”
Moodle, she believes, offers more flexibility in the course assignments and the ability to link to a variety of readings.
This semester, Spector’s highly organized, comprehensive Moodle serves as a key resource for the numerous faculty members who are teaching 51 sections of University 100 that together serve 1,200 freshmen. It also gives the University 100 students valuable exposure to Moodle during their first semester at college.
Spector will continue to innovate at CSUN. This is evident in U100’s Freshman Celebration, which is held at the end of each semester. Students feature their class projects at the University Student Union’s Grand Salon. Last year, for the first time, the Virtual Freshman Celebration on Moodle was added to demonstrate student learning.
“Technology is great fun and it enables teachers to do new, great and fun things,” Spector said. “I like technology, but there’s always a little flag on it. But that’s true for any new pedagogical tool. … It’s not always going to work. You have to frame it and place it with some care.”