Design-A-Course pilot program launches in the fall

Student Government (SG) released the applications for the Design-A-Course pilot program on Feb. 6.

The program was one of the former SG administration’s original campaign platforms. “Taking U Forward,” the name of the former administration, said the idea stemmed from a similar program at the University of Virginia. Under the new program, students will be able to apply to teach courses pre-approved by faculty members.

“You go back to the old mantra, ‘You learn best by teaching others,’” former SG President Brandon Mitchell said.

These courses range from one to three credits and are pass/fail only. Therefore, they do not count toward a student’s GPA. Professors are responsible for grading the course, but students are the ones actually teaching other students.

After completing the application to create a course, students must then select a full-time professor who will mentor them through the process of planning and teaching the class, which includes putting together a syllabus.

“A lot of this is going to depend heavily on the relationship the student has with the mentor,” said Michael Piacentino, former SG press secretary.

After the application is submitted, it must then go through a lengthy approval process. This year, five students submitted applications to teach courses – but only one passed the set standards to teach a course this fall. The course, titled Pre-Health Students: Building a Diversified Portfolio (BIL375), has 35 students enrolled. The course will award students with one credit, and will meet Mondays from 5 to 6:25 p.m. Professor and Director of the Pre-Health Advising office Michael Gaines will teach the course.

The two main hurdles will be the Academic Affairs Committee of the SG Senate, and then the administrators of the schools and colleges under which the courses fall.

The SG Senate committee will determine whether there will be enough student interest in the proposed course. The schools and colleges will then review the course’s syllabus. At any point in this process, the syllabus may be returned to the student and mentor for changes.

The next step will also be the longest step: seeking approval from the curriculum committee of the Faculty Senate, who meet infrequently.

The final two approvals will have to come from Dr. Bill Green, the senior vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the accreditation agency to which UM belongs.

“It is a slightly longer process than we originally thought,” Piacentino said. “All these approvals are to ensure that the classes will mean something for both the students taking the course and the students teaching them. It is also to make sure the courses align with the prestigious academic culture at the U.”

All students can now apply to design a course in any of the schools and colleges.

If the course completes the approval process this semester, it will be available on myUM in the fall. It will be listed under the professor’s name but will mention in the description that a student teaches it. Most of these classes will be small with less than 20 students.

Students, like senior Emily Packard, are excited about this program.

“There are a lot of students here who have interests that cross over multiple disciplines, and I think that this is a neat opportunity for a fusion of different departments,” Packard said. “I’m a neuroscience major but I’m also really interested in anthropology, and you could probably do some cool kind of mash of both of those things.”