Photo by Nix Hinds

Hybrid USEM Courses Deliver Voyages of Discovery, Identity for New Maryville Students

by Tim Fox

For years, Maryville University’s University Seminar (USEM) courses helped new students begin their college journeys in traditional classrooms. But in the third year of USEM’s revamped team-taught format, COVID-19 forced instructors to transform USEM into a hybrid classroom experience.

This year, only about a third of USEM students gather in classrooms, while the rest join on Zoom. Though some students are learning remotely, and others are in the classroom, course instructors promote active learning and engagement through live and online discussions, small and large group projects and lots of questions.

Participation in this hybrid format is made more exciting by themed courses. Each of the USEM courses have a different theme and students choose their course based on personal interest.

“We carefully considered First-Year students’ needs and decided to create a more diverse student experience centered on themes of personal identity,” said Jesse Kavadlo, Professor of English and Humanities. Kavadlo’s course is titled, “Harry Potter and the Quest for the Glow Up.”

“The Harry Potter books and films become a template for students to understand themselves,” Kavadlo said. Harry’s experience at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry shows how education can become a path to a better life.

A team-teaching model also helps ensure connection with first-year students. In Kavadlo’s class, Life Coach Seth Matteson helps students appreciate their differences and skills, and how both enrich Maryville’s community.

“I bring students to life in the classroom,” Matteson said. “For example, they got very excited talking about how the different magical creatures in Harry’s world relate to diversity and inclusion in our world.”

Senior Instructional Technology Specialist Taylor Bell serves as the class’s “tech guru,” and a fourth member of the team is a second-year student, called a peer mentor. The peer mentor provides support to both the first-year students and the teaching trio.

“I enjoy helping students find answers to their own questions in their own ways,” said Samantha Marty, peer mentor in Kavadlo’s class.

According to Kavadlo, having a teaching trio is a major contributor to a successful hybrid experience. “Students get more connection and contact with Maryville’s faculty and staff, and we’re able to manage the logistics of mixed attendance more easily.”

Another USEM teaching team built their course around The Wizard of Oz. One of its professors, Laura Ross, Associate Director of the Finch Center for Teaching and Learning, said that “our USEM course is about how challenges are necessary to grow, like Dorothy learns in The Wizard of Oz.”

“Our hybrid approach gives students opportunities to reflect in small groups about their college journeys, and how challenges can help them become who they want to be,” Ross said.

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