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Getting the Facts on FYP

Getting the Facts on FYP

The Foundation Year Program (FYP) is unique: few programs of its kind are offered in Canada, and it is a celebrated part of the King’s experience.

Wondering if FYP could be for you? Using the questions our recruiters get asked the most, we’ve prepared a deep-dive into what FYP is, how it works, and who should consider applying.

Is FYP a “Great Books” program?

“Great Books” programs are based on the study of important texts and works of literature, as opposed to studying textbooks that have been written about them. Like a “Great Books” program, no textbooks are used in FYP; instead students are encouraged to form their own understanding of the work by reading the text itself, learning more about its key themes and arguments in lectures, and through discussion with their peers and faculty.

In the Foundation Year Program at King’s students read texts that are considered foundational to what is often called “western culture.” This is because these texts provide insight into a set of developments considered fundamental to the emergence of the modern world. While many of the books students read in FYP could be found in a “Great Books” program, FYP selects the texts it reads in any year not by characterizing them simply as “great”—which suggests that a book’s value can be objectively determined according to a timeless universal standard—rather, these texts are selected as a means to understanding cultural development from the ancient world to our contemporary one.

So how does FYP decide which books are foundational to western culture?

The reason why certain texts are studied in FYP is because they help us to understand the worlds of other times and other places. The texts included are chosen as powerful and direct ways to learn about different moments in time. Taken together, these books help us to understand how western culture developed.

The FYP syllabus offers a very good way to understand, question and even interrogate the culture that formed much of our modern world. However it is not definitive: at the end of each year faculty re-evaluate the reading list, taking into account feedback students have provided and adding some works while removing others to keep the syllabus ambitious, relevant and increasingly diverse.

“Would I go out of my way to pick Homer or Dante off the shelf? Probably not. But am I glad that I needed to read it? Definitely.” – Aidan Badcock-Parks, FYP Arts student 2020-2021

If FYP is about understanding how western culture developed, does that mean you only learn about Europe and North America?

What we think of today as western culture reflects influences drawn from around the world. The story of western culture is full of cross-cultural encounters that include colonialism, imperialism and slavery and FYP looks at these encounters critically as it examines the ideas and stories that were shared, adopted or forcibly imposed through these encounters.

In FYP, students read and discuss texts from a variety of cultures. In the 2020-2021 year, students began with a lecture on the Ancient Near East and went on to read and discuss the Sanskrit epic The Bhagavad Gita, while later lectures included topics like The Art of Islamic Love, Colonialism in the Americas: Encounters and Impact, and India and Empire, among others. Studying the development of western culture includes an examination of the ideas that shaped it, and these ideas have come from cultures all around the world.

How is FYP unique from other first-year programs?

As mentioned above, students in FYP study the texts on the syllabus chronologically, so the fall and winter terms are grouped into six sections that move forward through time. Beginning with the Ancient World, students then proceed to study The Middle Ages, The Renaissance and The Reformation, The Age of Reason, The Era of Revolutions and finally The Contemporary World. One of the unique things about FYP is that the books and texts that form the course material for each of these sections are drawn from a wide variety of subject areas and disciplines including philosophy, literature, the social sciences and art history. Together, these introduce students to many of the key ideas that have shaped contemporary thought in the west, and to the critiques that challenge these ideas.

How does FYP fit into a university degree?

FYP is designed to be the first year of a four-year university degree. For students who are finishing high school, or individuals considering university whose highest level of education is a high school diploma, their next step is likely going to be a bachelor’s degree. At King’s, FYP can be the first year of a Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BSc), Bachelor of Music (BMus) or Bachelor of Journalism (Hons) (BJ(Hons)) degree.

In most Canadian universities, students take 10 courses in their first year—five courses in the fall, and five courses in the winter/spring. At King’s, students in FYP who are pursuing degrees in arts, music and journalism attend lectures and tutorials for FYP on most weekdays, and then take one additional course each semester. In this way, the courses a BA, BMus, or BJ(Hons) student takes in FYP each semester are equivalent to four of the five courses that make up a full-time semester in most Canadian universities. For students who will go on to do a Bachelor of Science, FYP counts for three of their five courses, so full-time BSc students in FYP take two additional courses in each semester of their first year.

“FYP was an opportunity to build the skills you need as a university student while you retain the [level of] structure you had in high school.” – Kayleigh Shield, BA(Hons)’16, King’s Senior Recruitment Officer

What is the day-to-day schedule like?

Most weekdays, students will attend a FYP lecture. When classes are held in person, these lectures are two hours long, with a ten minute break in the middle. For online classes, lectures are pre-recorded and presented in four segments. Lectures are intended to inspire students to think about the assigned reading through an in-depth examination of its key ideas.

Later that same day, students attend a tutorial where they discuss the lecture and the reading. Led by a faculty member, tutorials are held in small groups to support a more comfortable exchange of ideas and debate: in-person tutorials take place in groups of around 15 students; online tutorials are held in groups of 9-11 students. They are an opportunity to break down the material and to reflect on the assigned reading and the lecture that has just taken place. Sharing different points of view and asking questions is encouraged as students sharpen their analytical skills and improve their ability to form and express their point of view.

“We try to be as wide-ranging and ambitious as we can be in subject-matter, while providing students with as caring and receptive an attitude as we can.”– Daniel Brandes, Assistant Professor in the Humanities

Attendance at lectures and tutorials is mandatory, but students are given the choice of different tutorial time slots. Once you select what time you would like to attend tutorials, you will be assigned to a tutorial group, meaning that you will meet with the same people at the same time each day.

How is FYP delivered online?

With online delivery all lectures are pre-recorded and “published” online the day before a scheduled tutorial. These lectures are recorded in King’s lecture halls by audio and video engineers, ensuring high quality video and sound.

Students can watch lectures on their own time and at their own pace. This is referred to as asynchronous learning—students are watching the lecture at different times. The day after the lecture is shared, students join with a small group of their peers to participate in a scheduled, live tutorial hosted on Zoom by a member of faculty. This is synchronous learning —students participate in the tutorial together, at the same time.

For the 2020-2021 year, all courses at King’s are being delivered online. While the university remains hopeful that in-person classes will resume in the 2021-2022 year, students entering FYP in the fall of 2021 are guaranteed the ability to take FYP online if they prefer. That means that in 2021-2022, some students may take FYP in person, while others take the program online.

In addition to lectures and tutorials, Read Now and Write Now are two optional online events that help students have the experience of connecting over readings and assignments, whether they’re living in residence or three provinces away. Read Now generally takes place the evening before a tutorial: it is a live, online event for FYP students that features a member of faculty reading a portion of that week’s assigned reading. Write Now is a scheduled opportunity for students to meet up online while they work on their FYP essays, exchanging ideas and working together under the shared pressure of an essay deadline.

What type of assignments are given to students?

FYP students submit an essay every two weeks: most essay assignments ask students to respond to a quotation. Other assignment types include writing a ‘position paper,’ an essay that incorporates a secondary source, and a research paper that reflects in-depth, scholarly research on a subject.

“The discipline of having to write a paper every two weeks was really valuable. It really helped me get on the road to the point where writing is something I feel I can do fairly readily. And it is a big part of my job now.” – Mark Fleming, BA(Hons),94, Partner, WilmerHale, Boston, MA

How are students evaluated?

Evaluation in FYP happens in a variety of ways. In addition to assignments throughout the term and attendance, students also write midterms and final exams.

In a normal year, midterm exams take place half-way through each semester. The questions cover the content of readings and lectures, including dates and information about significant figures who students have studied.

At the end of each semester an oral examination takes place. The oral examination is a short conversation between two faculty and one student about some of the material covered in FYP.

What if I’m not a strong writer?

One of things often said about FYP by people who have taken the program is that it made them a much better writer. It makes sense—FYP provides a learning experience that could be compared to an apprenticeship in academic writing. Students learn to frame effective arguments using evidence and reasoning to establish a thesis or basic claim, and throughout the program they work continuously to master this basic skill that will serve them through their time at university and in almost any career following university. As a result FYP has benefitted many students who lacked confidence in their writing ability.

Write Now (described in the question about the delivery of online learning) also provides students with the opportunity to get feedback from one another by working on assignments together.

Finally, FYP also offers its students help from a dedicated writing coach who can help them identify how their writing can be improved.

What if I’m not a fast reader?

FYP faculty have a lot of experience making sure that the amount of reading is balanced and manageable. Sometimes, students are asked to read a longer text, especially if it is fairly ‘light’ and accessible. If the assigned work is a more dense, complex, or philosophical text, you’ll often be asked to read only a few pages.

Some students like reading alone, but others enjoy getting together in groups to support each other while reading out loud. Read Now (described in the question about the delivery of online learning) has taken this idea to a whole new level, giving students the opportunity to hear part of the week’s readings as read by a FYP faculty member.


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