A handful of colleges across the country have decided to dramatically mix things up in the classroom. Schools like UCLA, University of Virginia, James Madison and Carnegie Mellon have started programs allowing undergraduates to come up with their own ideas for classes and, in turn, the students lead semester-long classes on topics ranging from ethnic strife in Africa to the world of Harry Potter.
The idea has been around since the 1960s at UC Berkeley, a place where thinking outside the box is not only encouraged, but rather part of the culture. The concept is simple: By flipping the typical student-teacher role around, it gives students more of an opportunity to play an active role in their education and recognizes they have more to offer than just sitting in class taking notes.
After one spring break visiting friends at Cal and tagging along to some classes, I stumbled upon one of their student-led classes with my friend. Within minutes I told my friend that we had to start doing this on my campus.
Two years later, we’re launching a new student-led program at James Madison University with classes ranging from “Why we make music” to studying the financial meltdown of 2008 from a student perspective. Facilitators go through an intensive, semester-long course development program working with a faculty mentor and developing their classroom leadership skills.
Getting the program started was definitely a challenge but the idea is picking up at other colleges around the country. In another few years, taking or leading a class among peers could be the next big thing. It is a chance to make class fun while still sharpening leadership skills.
When students get to decide the classes, it gives them the opportunity to focus on what they want to learn about for extracurricular credit. Students leading classes on subjects they’re passionate about can be an excellent starting point for developing and refining their interests and ideas. For example, an undergraduate at Rice University led a class studying the under-performing schools in inner Houston; this experience started a movement. Not only did he start his own charter school network in Houston, but also he has become Vice President of Teach for America.
Do you think this should be an option on your campus? If you had the opportunity to direct a class, what subject would you choose to teach?
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