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The block is making the transition to college as smooth as possible

UMW News Bureau

Linked-courses are making the transition from high school to college as smooth as possible for incoming freshmen.
The University of Montana Western is making the transition to college as smooth as possible for next year’s incoming freshmen. “The whole idea of a first year experience is to set aside classes for new students coming in so you get students off onto the right foot really early on,” Sean Eudaily, professor of history, philosophy and social sciences (HPSS) said.
Montana Western’s unique block system in which students attend one three-hour class a day over 18 days has already improved the college experience for UMW students. Next year, Montana Western will add to this experience by implementing linked block courses into its schedule.
Linked-courses will keep freshman classes together for two blocks, giving the students an opportunity to create a community among peers and make connections between different general education courses. For example, Eudaily’s Intro to Philosophy class will be linked with  Sara Glasgow’s American Government class, connected by the theme of Battlestar Galactaca. “One thing we’ve heard from students, and this is true in non-block schools as well, is that they don’t always see the connection from one class to the other. We try to pick themes that are both interesting and provocative for the students, but they’ll also be able to see that the things you do in an English class relate to the things you do in a philosophy class,” Eudaily said.
By linking these classes, students will have a positive start to their college careers leading to higher retention. Although Montana Western traditionally has fewer students who drop out than most schools, according to Eudaily, students who drop out do so after the first couple of blocks.
“The solution to that is to make sure there is something for first year students to do in the first couple of blocks where they are going to have a really good experience,” he said.
Linked-courses offered next year include a literature and politics class on the Harlem Renaissance; a college writing and introduction to philosophy course with a Sopranos theme; and a biology and probability class on parasites called “What’s Eating You?”
Montana Western now provides “stretch” courses (classes that stretch over more than one block) in English and mathematics. The English stretch course is for students who want more time to practice writing or don’t meet the Montana Board of Regents (BOR) writing proficiency standards. Students who don’t meet the BOR standards can’t be fully-enrolled until they pass a basic writing course.
The university developed a stretch class that will include this basic writing (ENG 091) course as well as the freshman composition class (ENG 102). The course will grant eight credits toward financial aid, but only four (ENG 102) count toward graduation.
Bethany Blankenship, Montana Western English professor explained that this course is successful because the students complete the same work as students in the regular ENG 102 course, but they have more time to do it. “Good writing happens with time, not intensity,” she said.
According to new BOR math standards, students must score a 22 on the ACT or 520 on the SAT to be placed in a college level math class, however they can still be admitted into college with an 18 ACT or 440 SAT. Eric Wright, professor of mathematics, explained that according to the Board of Regents, these are still full-time students who simply need mathematics remediation.
"They get the stuff, there’s just some gaps they need to fill. So this is geared toward students who don’t necessarily need to go to class every day,” Wright said.
Montana Western already offers a Math 007 course for students who need remedial math. The new course is designed so students can take the Math 007 online at their own pace where they can become eligible for college level math.
Wright explained that one of the advantages of this online class is that students will have access to “large banks of problems” and get immediate feedback on their work, and if they get a problem wrong, they can try it again.
“It’s really going to promote good study and math practice skills,” Wright said. He explained that the only way to succeed in college-level math is to practice problem sets and this class will support that study habit which will follow them into college-level math.
“I think it’s a really exciting time to come to Montana Western,” Blankenship said.