Students Teach Courses & Fill Gaps

Have you found a gaping hole in the Stanford curriculum? Does the mind boggle at the lack of courses addressing the theological implications of Joss Whedon’s Firefly, the impact on feminism of advancements in oven technology, or teaching Elvish? If so, then step up to the plate and teach a Student Initiated Course (SIC).

The SIC program allows students to apply to teach 1-2 unit courses, and provides guidance, finances, and support for Stanford undergraduates to teach classes on topics no currently taught in the standard Stanford curriculum.

Courses offered this quarter include The Art and Science of Beer, The Neurobiology of Relaxation, Physics of the Circus, Exploring Autism,The Game of Go, and The Beatles: Here, There, and Everywhere. According to the program’s website, “SIC is a direct way to satisfy student demand for classes.”

Student instructors are responsible for their own course material, independent of faculty sponsors. Although professors are involved in the planning planning stages, generally their involvement drops off once the course is established.

There have been fears about students’ attitudes toward being taught by fellow students. Derek Ouyang ’13, co-instructor of Civil and Environmental Engineering 13SI: Introduction to Architectural Modelling, found that despite his initial fears that students might not him seriously, those enrolled are “incredibly respectful and self-motivated.”

Ouyang does not just hope to instruct students through his his course; he also hopes to “instill a mindset and culture of architectural design among younger students at Stanford,” in the hopes of Stanford developing a stronger architecture program in the years to come.

Ouyang describes his class as being a “half-boot camp, half-design studio” teaching “a wide variety of architectural tools and methodologies”.

This quarter, AJ Sugarman ’14, is currently enrolled in International Relations 55SI: The U.S. Military in International Security. He described the class as “one small step toward greater understanding” of the military by students. That divide between the two demographics on campus has been rendered more prominent with the controversy surrounding ROTC’s re-establishment on campus.

Course instructors Jimmy Ruck ’11 and Akhil Ayer ’11 are both ROTC cadets. Sugarman enjoys the instructors’ inside perspectives on the military.

“The fact that students who are currently preparing to enter the military are teaching the course means it can eschew the more theoretical, academic aspects of the subject, which are covered by existing classes, and focus on the actual experiences,” he said. Sugarman is considering teaching a similar course next year.

Adam Pearson is a co-instructor of American Studies 69SI: Last Exit to Springfield: *The Simpsons *and American Society. Pearson hopes that his students “develop a skill to make sense of their world around them based on what they may typically passively consume.” Pearson relished his first day of teaching.

“I realized that everyone in the room shared such a nerdy interest in *The Simpsons *and understood everyone else’s obscure, quick references to episodes,” he said. “I was reminded how a University setting is such a great meeting of minds within specific interests.”

Teaching an SIC provides many student instructors with insight into their own professors’ techniques. Ouyang said that he now feels that “most professors and TA’s don’t put enough care and diligence into helping students.” He adds that he has “a newfound respect for professors who really understand the pacing of lectures and quality of assignments.”

Pearson said he “used to think that this sort of thing was intuitive to a lot of professors, but even having familiarized myself with our course material a couple of months ago, I still find myself having to re-read and review everything before class.”

Lena Schoemaker ’12, instructor of Athletics 124SI: Sport and Disability, says that when “tired and not in a mood to teach”, there is a real impact on her teaching style. Schoemaker’s course culminates in each student participating in a wheelchair basketball clinic and mini tournament.

Responses from students enrolled in SICs vary widely. Josh Freedman ’11 found the courses unsatisfying because of their 1-2 unit nature.

Sometimes 1 unit classes are time consuming without feeling like I am putting in the necessary effort to make the class worthwhile,” he said.

Conversely, Raine Hoover ’11 enjoys the smaller workload and commitment of the course. She feels that “they’re good things to do if you’re interested in the topic, but not enough to take a five unit class.”

Applications to teach an SIC in Autumn 2011 closed on April 29. A panel of three faculty members, SIC Financial Officer Christina Zhu, and SIC Coordinator Eamonn Campbell will evaluate applications.

Campbell became involved with the program after taking the SIC “Harry Potter and the Arc of Storytelling,” taught by Christine O’Connell ’08. The course was so popular that the instructors resorted to using a lottery to determine enrollment, thereby turning away more than 50 students to remain within the 20 student limit.

According to Campbell, desirable criteria for an SIC include “qualifications of the instructors, the academic rigor of the proposed course, and the submitted applications.” Would-be instructors must submit a proposed syllabus for the course and offer a letter of recommendation from the course’s faculty sponsor.

Although it is too late to enroll in this quarter’s courses, SICs are offered consistently throughout the year. The SICs for Autumn 2011 will be available on SIC’s website come mid-May.

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