ALJASSAR: Students teach students

The Cavalier Education program is a valuable and worthwhile experience for both students and student-teachers

Ten seminars developed by undergraduate students will be offered as part of the Cavalier Education program this fall. Among those include “School of Rock” taught by third-year College student Michael Breger and “Were We Really Born This Way?” taught by third-year College student Blake Calhoun.

In conversations I’ve had with my peers during course registration, I’ve found that quite a few are opposed to the concept of student-run seminars. Many perceive such courses to be less meaningful than those taught by experienced faculty members. But I hold the opposite opinion; peer-to-peer education is a valuable learning resource that the University should continue to support.

The Cavalier Education Program offers students an opportunity to assume a greater role in forming their academic experiences. Led by the Academic Affairs Committee of Student Council, the program is an extension of student self-governance — a popular tradition most associated with extracurricular interests and student government — into academia. Additionally, the program embodies qualities of self-governance by allowing students to share their interests in subjects that fall outside of the traditional curricula set by academic departments at the University. Student-run seminars offered this semester such as “Improv Comedy: History, Theory, and Performance” explore areas of interest that merit academic study but are not given sufficient attention in the academic world.

Other student-run seminars are valuable in that they introduce scientific topics to a broad audience. “The Chemistry of Cooking,” offered next fall by third-year Commerce student Kevin Nguyen and third-year College student Lani Galloway, aims to teach students the chemical processes that underlie cooking in addition to topics in food science. Earlier this year, I wrote a column in which I argued in favor of popular courses for students with superficial STEM backgrounds. Currently, such courses are limited to a select few in science and mathematics departments at the University. The Cavalier Education Program presents students with access to academic disciplines such as chemistry that would otherwise be out of reach for non-science majors.

Student-run seminars through the program also serve as useful trials for course subjects that can be adopted by the rest of the University.

Third-year Batten student and student instructor of “Practical Public Speaking” Kurt Lockhart penned an op-ed earlier this month in which he introduced the idea of an oral communication competency requirement at the University. Lockhart asserted that oral communication skills are as essential as writing skills and should be nurtured through a greater availability of public speaking courses. In his piece, Lockhart drew upon his experiences as the facilitator of his course and his objective to cultivate student confidence and speech quality through weekly practice and guest lectures. The discussion prompted by Lockhart’s experience demonstrates the utility of student-run seminars as pilot projects for courses offered by other University departments.

Furthermore, enrollment in student-run seminars is capped at twenty students, promoting discussion and student interaction. Small seminars tend to be taken by third- and fourth-years in advanced major-specific coursework or first years in USEMs or COLAs. Student-run seminars create opportunities to engage in small academic discussions without the cost of additional faculty. And perhaps most salient to the benefits of peer-to-peer education are the distinct perspectives and insights that students bring to the classroom as instructors. Engagement with a relatable student instructor is a unique learning process, and some students may find it more beneficial than large lecture courses with often-unapproachable professors.

Detractors of the program often contend that student-run seminars are ineffective in that those enrolled may treat the courses lightly, particularly because they are taught by other students. This notion that student-run seminars are joke courses is rooted in misconception: the program mandates that each student teaching a seminar take a one-credit pedagogy seminar before the course is offered. It’s also important to note that the courses are carefully designed with the aid of faculty advisers.

So to those of you seeking an extra credit or two for the fall semester, I encourage you to sign up for a Cavalier Education Program course. It’s certainly a special experience that you might find to be quite meaningful.

Nazar Aljassar is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. His columns run Fridays.

Published April 24, 2014 in Opinion

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