A new UC Davis program is giving students the chance to take a walk in a professor’s shoes by allowing them the opportunity to teach their own classes.
Rajiv Narayan, a junior critical economics major, has created a program tentatively titled Student-Led Courses (SLC), with the purpose of guiding undergraduates through the process of teaching their own university courses. Students taking these courses can earn anywhere from half a unit to two units worth of university credit, similar to a freshman seminar.
Based on a program existing at UC Berkeley called DECal (Democratic Education of Cal), Narayan’s program aims to put students on the other side of the classroom, just like himself.
“This quarter, I’m teaching my own course on the social theory of body image and eating disorders,” said Narayan in an e-mail interview. “I didn’t have high expectations going into the course, but when 80 students attempted to enter, it became clear that the interest in student-led courses couldn’t exist as a fringe project for a couple of students ‘in the know.'”
Narayan believes that students who teach their own courses will benefit extraordinarily from their experience.
“You learn quickly that teaching is hard – it’s hard to entertain and impart content,” Narayan said. “I have a much higher degree of respect for my professors now, and it’s true that you don’t really learn the material until you teach it to someone else.”
For students, teaching their own course involves working with a faculty sponsor to develop a syllabus out of the course concept. This not only allows students to see how a professor would organize their concept, but is also a great opportunity for student-faculty interaction in a small setting.
Dr. Judith Stern, a professor of nutrition and Narayan’s faculty sponsor, believes that students can effectively teach courses to their peers.
“They have to have a knowledge base and be able to communicate this effectively to students,” Stern said in an e-mail interview. “They also have to have high standards that motivate students to excel. [With these qualities], the course can be lively and stimulate students to think.”
Students have the potential to teach courses that professors may not have the funding or research experience to cover. Past student-led classes have included “The Chemistry of Cooking,” “Politics of Piracy” and “Music, Lyrics and the Art of Radiohead.”
William Klein, a senior nature and culture major, taught a course titled “Field Guide to Sustainable Living in Davis” along with eight other undergraduates. He said that students can learn a lot from each other.
“In today’s world, information is no longer controlled by a set of elite intellectuals, but is all over the place,” Klein said. “We have so much to share with one another, and this program is a great way to do that.”
The first steps to teaching one’s own class include filling out a comprehensive packet, working with a professor and submitting the information to Narayan’s program. The student, or group of students, must also be in good academic standing and comply with all university requirements.
Narayan hopes that support for the program will increase over the coming months, and aims to include more workshops and training sessions to help students capably teach their own courses.
“With a solid support base, the next step would be to accommodate more students who want to teach a course,” Narayan said. “My hope is that I’ll come back to campus some years after graduating and see the program run like UC Berkeley, where it’s a common experience to teach or take a student-led course.”
The program is aiming for two to three dozen student-led courses for Fall 2011. Students interested can find out more information in the Memorial Union Fielder Room today from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
RACHEL RILEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.