Thursday, December 13

Spring could bring student-taught classes


Tyler Shores is a typical class-going, note-taking student at
the University of California, Berkeley four days a week. But for 90
minutes each week, he steps on to the other side of the podium and
becomes a lecturer, facilitator and highly regarded teacher in
front of his peers.

Shores is part of Berkeley’s DeCal program, in which
students have the option of taking two- to three-unit classes
taught by their peers on a wide array of subjects. A similar
program could begin at UCLA as soon as spring quarter.

Shores came to campus last week to discuss with students the
advantages of starting a similar program at UCLA and found several
interested Bruins.

“Students have a wealth of knowledge, and the rest of the
student body would love to hear what they have to say. I imagine
many students would love to take a student-taught class,”
said Michelle Sassounian, a second-year political science and
philosophy student who would like to start her own class at
UCLA.

The DeCal program made headlines in 2001, when a student
facilitator was said to have had his students watch porn as a
homework assignment for a male sexuality course. Many of the DeCal
classes are controversial in nature because students are interested
in teaching controversial topics.

The classes in the DeCal program range from a class on the
cartoon show “The Simpsons” and beer-tasting to a class
about the Kama Sutra, which explores ancient sexual positions.
Other student-run classes have been on philosophy and history,
among others.

The DeCal program has been at Berkeley for more than 20 years
and has grown to include over 100 courses taught by Berkeley
students, with 3,000 students enrolled each semester.

“Being involved in the DeCal program has been the best
part of my college experience, and it has been really cool to have
had the opportunity to teach the “˜Simpsons’
class,” said Shores.

To teach such a class at UCLA, the process would be the same as
starting a DeCal class at Berkeley. The student has to write a
syllabus for the class and then have a professor sign the
application to have the class approved. Once the class is approved
by the department, the class can be scheduled.

Shores has been involved in the growth of the DeCal program at
Berkeley and said he is interested in starting similar programs at
other UC schools.

While at UCLA, he also distributed flyers and information to
interested students about starting their own classes.

“Berkeley is willing to help anyone interested in starting
their own class; the facilitators will learn many things, including
creativity and responsibility,” Shores said.

Since his visit last week, Shores said he has already seen a
strong interest in starting a similar program on campus.

“We have such a large, diverse and intelligent student
body that it seems like a shame to not have a similar
program,” Sassounian said.

Sassounian is currently designing and writing a syllabus for a
class she intends to teach spring quarter. Her class will either
cover the evolution of the Beatles or how pop culture affects
society.

“If a professor passes my class, I hope to bring a
different perspective to learning at UCLA. Here at UCLA …
students are too intimidated by their professors, and they do what
they need to do to get the grade,” Sassounian said. “To
take a pass/no pass class taught by their peers will show them that
learning is about enriching and expanding their
knowledge.”

Sachin Gandhi, a second-year molecular cell developmental
biology student, believes that if an issue is contentious, it would
be better taught by a student because it would be easier to
communicate with someone of similar age.

“If it is a controversial issue, I think that students
would be more interested and more qualified to teach the
subject,” Gandhi said. “I think it would be a good idea
to learn about interesting events, though they would typically be
thought of as being controversial in an educated
setting.”

Students interested in facilitating a class would be able to
learn about instructing other students and planning how to organize
them in a typical class structure.

“I am considering getting my doctorate in history and
becoming a professor in the future. This is a good way of seeing if
you would make a good teacher and if you truly love
academia,” said second-year theater student Tiffany
Edwards.

With reports from Diana Hernandez, Bruin Contributor. For
more information, go to www.DeCal.org.

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