Undergraduates put peer teaching to the test in pilot

Students choose the topics they tackle in a trial student-led initiative

by Andy Poon staff writer

Some senior undergraduate students are taking part in a unique experiment on campus this term--earning university course credits in a class that they help create and conduct.

The student-led initiative, called Group Directed Studies, is a pilot project based on similar classes given at the University of California at Berkeley. Each three-credit course has a student co-ordinator who handles course content under faculty supervision. Eight to 15 students who are currently in their third or fourth year of study are enrolled in each of the classes.

"It was truly a student-generated idea," says Neil Guppy, associate vice-president, Academic Programs. He says that Vivian Hoffman--former Alma Mater Society president--championed the idea.

"The basic idea is to enhance student-directed learning at UBC," he says. "It is a way for students to come up with topics for study that are not part of our curriculum."

Guppy says that while students were free to come up with whatever area of study they wished to pursue, the topics had to be academically sound and each course had to have a faculty member willing to sponsor the class.

Besides helping students develop a course outline, the supervising faculty member attends some of the student-run classes and meets individually with students to discuss their work and help evaluate their assignments.

This term, there are four classes being offered: Film in Post-Colonial Asia; Integrative, Alternative and Complementary Medicine; Management of Natural and Human Resources in the Georgia Basin; and Patterns in Nature (a course that explores mathematical ratios and geophysical patterning).

Tom Bird, a fourth-year Integrated Sciences student proposed the Management of Natural and Human Resources course because he wanted to explore more deeply the concept of sustainable development in the area.

"It is such a controversial topic and so many different viewpoints on how things should be run in the area are out there," says Bird.

With the help of John Robinson, director of the Sustainable Development Research Institute, Bird set up the course and says it has become his favourite class.

"Every class is a challenge," he says. "It is a group effort to make sure we all come away from it having learned something."

more information
Visit the Web site www.oldadm.ubc.ca/vpacademic/avpacadprog/gds.