In 2014, four broad, interconnected learning goals were suggested by an ad hoc committee on the First Year Seminar program:*
1. To learn what is expected intellectually and ethically for college-level work in the liberal arts;
2. to develop skills, both written and oral, in observation, analysis, research, argumentation, and the use of scholarly sources;
3. to engage seriously with a scholarly topic (the topic to which one's seminar is devoted);
4. to become (with the help of advising) active in exploring academic and professional goals, and to find rewarding ways to participate in intellectual life in the liberal arts.
Different seminars may interpret and approach such goals in different ways. In accordance with Goal 1, seminars tend to emphasize academic and intellectual curiosity, generosity, integrity, honesty, and effort in written work, discussion, and oral presentation. Seminars may also stress, in their teaching of writing or in their approaches to their topics, the importance of diversity, personal responsibility, and community to intellectual achievement.
Usually, seminars teach widely accessible analytical writing, though some may assign other kinds of writing as well. Learning to write and speak in First Year Seminars is often not merely acquiring techniques or formulas of persuasive rhetoric, but rather learning about a particular topic, and how to discuss it accurately and compellingly, through writing and speaking. The topics of some seminars may be interdisciplinary, those of others representative of particular disciplines.
In accordance with Goal 4, First Year Seminar instructors (Middlebury College faculty members) also serve as academic advisers for students until the students select their majors (by the middle of the second year at Middlebury). We have found that no one is better equipped to fulfill the role of academic adviser to a new student than a professor who works closely with that student.
*The goals listed above have not been approved by the Educational Affairs Committee or the full faculty. They are currently suggested, not required, for instructors.