UC Davis students continue push for more undergraduate-led courses

BRIAN LANDRY / AGGIE
BRIAN LANDRY / AGGIE

Upcoming courses to touch on origami, meat protection, Hmong culture

Starting Spring Quarter of 2016, there will be eight undergraduate student-led courses that will be available for registration.

The courses will cover a wide breadth of topics, including cryptocurrency, the economics of happiness and origami, and are open to all undergraduate students.

While the amount of undergraduate student-led courses is on the rise, this is nothing new to the UC Davis campus. Student-led courses have been something that many undergraduate students have been interested in for a while, especially with the high-profile undergraduate teaching programs at UC Berkeley and Stanford. Recently, more students have helped to push for a larger and more centralized program for UC Davis students who want to teach their own courses. Among those students are former ASUCD senators Patrick Sheehan, Alex Lee and Roman Rivilis and former student Rajiv Narayan.

According to Rylan Schaeffer, a fifth-year computer science and engineering major and two-time student teacher, the previous undergraduate student-led courses were considered impermissible courses according to the Academic Senate at UC Davis. While courses were still being taught and units were still given to students, the student teachers were not considered legitimate. However, in Spring 2014, Schaeffer taught one of the first student-led courses at UC Davis, which was led through the UC Davis honors program and was a pilot course that preceded the creation of the senate’s new policy.

His current goal for the program is to get more students involved in participating, whether that be taking the classes or having the confidence and knowledge to teach courses. The other goal for the program is to establish an office on campus, which will serve as a facility where students can learn more about student-led courses. As of right now, the way the courses are formed is through departments. This means that the fate of a course is dependent on the particular department the student wants to teach their class through, which could potentially limit the ability of students to start their own courses.

But according to Schaeffer, despite the lack of unity within the program, the departments tend to be very accommodating to students who have an interest in teaching a course.

“Speaking from experience, the departments are by no means a bottleneck. I’ve taught courses in two different departments, one in computer science and one in a special academic program, and both of them were very facilitating,” Schaeffer said. “I haven’t heard of a case yet where the department was the problem.”

Schaeffer said that there are two problems that are most commonly roadblocks to students teaching their own classes.  The first problem is faculty members lacking incentives to aid the students in teaching their courses.  The second is a lack of students who are able to follow through and find unique subjects that are not already taught by the university.

“Essentially, they work like regular classes. You register for them on Schedule Builder with a CRN. They’re usually only one to two units, and they are all pass or no pass. Students don’t have the power to give each other letter grades and they don’t require a final either,” said Joshua Wild, a Student Assistant to the Chancellor and third-year economics major who will be teaching the economics of happiness course next quarter.

In order to teach a class as an undergraduate, the subject chosen must be a topic that is not taught on campus by a professor or lecturer. After choosing the topic, students will have to find a professor on campus who is willing to sponsor their class. Students will then have to get approval for their class through the department that the class will be offered in, which usually takes up to a quarter. During the next quarter, the student and the professor will plan the class curriculum. The student will teach the class in the subsequent quarter.

Madiha Javed, a first-year computer science major, said that she is looking forward to the courses being offered.

“I am really excited for these courses, and I hope the university makes it a priority to fund them,” Javed said.

The classes that will be taught this spring include: Economics of Happiness, Cryptocurrency Technologies, Origami, Children’s Literature Workshop, Fundamentalism, Terrorism and Human Rights, Introduction to Hmong Culture and Language, MEDLIFE and Meat Protection and the Environment. All these courses can be registered for on Schedule Builder as of right now with the corresponding CRN.

For more information on these courses and specific CRNs, contact Schaeffer at ryschaeffer@ucdavis.edu

Written by: Sangeetha Ramamurthy – campus@theaggie.org

Note: As of Feb. 16, 2016, some changes for accuracy in this article were made