Sunday, March 29

Student seminars make the grade

In the next two weeks, some undergraduate students will be
applying to teach their own UCLA courses.

Undergraduate Student Initiated Education, a new program being
offered by the UCLA College, lets upperclassmen propose, develop,
and facilitate one-unit seminars. Much like Fiat Lux classes, the
discussion-based, student-run courses would focus on very specific
topics and be graded on a pass/no pass basis.

USIE is based on UC Berkeley’s DeCal, a 25-year-old
program that now offers between 100 and 150 student-facilitated
classes each semester.

Jeff David, a fourth-year history and political science student,
has been planning his proposed seminar on science fiction for two
years ““ ever since he found out he might have a chance to
design a class at UCLA.

“I got really excited about it. I wrote up a syllabus
““ it was like, “˜All right, let’s
go,'” he said.

This past June, the Academic Senate voted to approve the USIE
program, giving students such as David the opportunity to put their
plans into action and facilitate classes as early as this

Some students are most excited about the teaching aspect of the

“I did a bit of teaching when I was in high school, and I
always liked to help my friends study,” David said, adding
that his passion for science fiction made the topic a natural

Other students are working on seminar applications in hopes of
broadening the scope of subjects offered at UCLA.

Faith Christiansen, a fourth-year political science student and
chairman of the Bruin Republicans, said she would like to
facilitate a course about conservative political leaders or

“There is not intellectual diversity on our campus,”
Christiansen said. “A lot of the upper-division classes get
very specific. I guess I could call them

Christiansen said she thinks many students would like a wider
variety of class options, regardless of their individual politics,
and her class would be a step in that direction.

Amit Urban, a fourth-year international development studies
student and a member of the Student Welfare Commission’s
Substance Abuse Awareness Committee, also said he wants to expand
the school’s curriculum.

“I didn’t see anything (about substance abuse) at
UCLA, so I thought it would be cool to teach a class,” he

But before they are allowed into the classroom, student
facilitators must find faculty mentors, shape their ideas into
lesson plans, and take a course to learn classroom management

Course proposals are due next week, and many say they are having
difficulty securing faculty mentors. David, Christiansen and Urban
all said they are still searching for professors to back their
proposed classes and help them plan their lessons.

Students had mixed opinions about taking courses taught by their
peers. Some said taking a student-facilitated course might be
better than taking a course taught by a professor.

“I think it would be interesting,” said Kelly Ro, a
fourth-year math student. “If they’re in that program,
you know it’s because they want to teach. With some
professors, you know they just want to do research.”

But other students are unsure how valuable a course run by
another undergraduate student would be.

“I’d be concerned about how much knowledge I’d
get out of it,” said Timothy Ho, a second-year undeclared

Monica Aviles, a fourth-year math student, said she might worry
about facilitators’ biases.

“If you’re a student, you interact with other
students,” she said. “There may be a personal conflict
in there.”

Polly Pagenhart, who coordinates facilitator training and
resources for UC Berkeley’s DeCal program, explained that
learning from professors is very different from learning from other
students, and said the two should not be compared so directly.

“The biggest problem … comes when you mistake peer
education as a poor duplicate of expert-driven education,”
Pagenhart said.

“The point of these classes is not for a student to
replicate a professor’s role,” she said. “The
point is for us to inspire peers to work together (to create) a
space in which students can take responsibility for their own
learning process.”

Meanwhile, aspiring student facilitators are thinking about how
to handle the difficulties that may arise from teaching other

“I thought it would be weird seeing my students at a party
or in a social setting,” Urban said.

He added that the social aspect could lend a positive,
productive dynamic to a seminar.

David said he was not worried about personal conflicts of
interest, and would not hesitate to give a friend a failing grade
if it were deserved.

“If I had a friend in a class, then that friend should
know to do what needs to be done,” he said. “If
they’re my friend and they’re not working hard, then
what are they doing in my class?”

Christiansen and David said they plan to keep their classes
engaged by emulating aspects of good professors’ teaching

“I think the more interactive and the more personal
professors get, the more students learn,” Christiansen said.
“As soon as someone cracks a joke or puts a personal example
into it, people remember.”

“The trick is to get the students interested,” David
said. “Once they get in, we’ll keep them

Comments are supposed to create a forum for thoughtful, respectful community discussion. Please be nice. View our full comments policy here.