Professor Undergraduate

Nov. 9, 2011, 3:02 a.m.

Students design and teach own classes through Student Initiated Courses program

Stanford students can browse through Explore Courses and be overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of classes available to them. A small group, however, find the selection lacking in some way. Perhaps there is a course they wish were offered but isn’t. Perhaps there is simply a subject they care deeply about and wish to share with others. In either case, that’s where student initiated courses (SICs) come into play.

Professor Undergraduate
(SERENITY NGUYEN/The Stanford Daily)

The SIC program allows students to plan, organize and teach their own one- or two-unit course on any subject of their choosing.

“The whole purpose of the program is to allow students to teach a course that’s not found anywhere else on campus,” said Samir Siddhanti ’12 M.S. ’12, president of the SIC program. “That’s probably the number one requirement, that the course can’t be found in any other department.”

There are six courses offered this quarter, including “Beginner Ceramics,” “Sport and Disability” and “Neil Gaiman: International Man of Mystery.”

“It presents an opportunity for students who are very passionate about certain fields or a certain area of expertise to spread their knowledge with other students,” Siddhanti said.

Any student is welcome to apply to teach a SIC, although he or she must be willing to invest a significant effort in the application process, the preparation and the teaching itself.

“If an applicant fulfills all their requirements, they should be able to teach a course,” Siddhanti said. “We’re not trying to be limiting in any factor except that they fulfill the necessary requirements–which are substantive.”

In order to be considered for a teaching position, students must fill out the application found on the SIC website. In addition, they must have a faculty sponsor who is willing to write a letter on their behalf.

“It’s important that students [who] are interested in doing this are in good academic standing before they apply,” Siddhanti said.

After they apply, the students must attend two workshops to prepare them for the experience; one focused on leading discussions, the other on building a syllabus.

“Creating a working syllabus and having something that is prepared each week is important,” said Lena Schoemaker ’12, co-instructor of the “Sport and Disability” course this quarter.

“It makes it more beneficial to narrow down your focus of what you want to talk about each week, and how that contributes to the overall class,” she added.

SICs have proven very popular among students. Susannah Poland ’12, former president of the Stanford Ceramics Club, wrote the application for the “Beginner Ceramics” course, which ran for the first time last spring. The class was a success, receiving 50 applications for its 10 spots.

While the interest in “Sport and Disability” was not overwhelming when it was first offered, also last spring, Schoemaker felt that students who enrolled benefited from the class.

“They really enjoyed it because it was something different than what they were used to,” she said. “It was a safe space that they could ask questions they weren’t so sure about.”

Siddhanti sees no reason why the program would be met with anything but positive responses.

“It’s for the students,” he said. “All of our money that we have goes directly back to the students. I think it’s a useful service for the University. It’s something that all the teachers seem to enjoy, and obviously students sign up voluntarily.”

Nonetheless, the SIC program still sees room for improvement. This year, it wants to establish a system in which students offer feedback on the classes they have taken. That way, classes that are repeated from quarter to quarter, or from year to year, can make necessary changes for the future.

Additionally, Siddhanti has attempted to make it easier for prospective teachers or students to find information on the program by centralizing information on a new website.

“It’s…a one-stop shop for any application questions, what courses are being taught, stuff like that,” he said.

A significant distinguishing factor between SICs and regular classes is the fact that the students are being taught by their peers, which can lead to a laid-back, discussion-based atmosphere.

“A lot of times you don’t even know what the students are going to be interested in,” Schoemaker said. “They might be interested in a different direction than what you were planning on, but allowing for that digression…that’s okay.”

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