Design-a-Course allowed for academic freedom, creativity

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A course dedicated solely to the novel “Jane Eyre” was proposed during the last academic school year.

“Jane Eyre” was not approved, but Niurka Monteserin, chair of the academic affairs committee of Student Government, continued to lead the Design-a-Course initiative, which allows students to develop their own courses, create a syllabus and teach the class themselves. These are offered as pass/fail courses for one credit.

The written application details the content of the course. Then the student or group of students who are interested in teaching the class are interviewed. A faculty sponsor must work with the student to provide a grade for the course.

Of the five applications submitted in spring 2012, three were approved by the Design-a-Course committee. Only one of those made it through the final round of faculty approval.

According to Monteserin, the classes needed to be proposed by strong student candidates.

“We’re looking for someone who is well-rounded,” she said. “They need to be familiar with the subject and have a good GPA.”

Class proposals can be submitted in either the fall or spring semesters. None of the applications that were turned in this past fall were approved because of communication problems, Monteserin said.

“Last semester we started a little too late, a lot of miscommunication between people,” she said. “We had two good courses that would have gotten a lot of attendance, so we want to make sure that doesn’t happen again this semester, which is why we’re starting early.”

Ultimately, faculty members in the respective schools or colleges have the final say of whether a class is approved.

The one student-led course that was already taught was geared toward pre-health students. Pre-Health Students: Building a Diversified Portfolio (BIL375) was offered last fall and had about 25 students taught by seven student instructors.

Students in the class learned about techniques for writing their personal statements, preparing a concise and informative resume, and making the best use of their individual development plans. They also received step-by-step coverage of the online application system for applying to professional schools.

Michael Gaines, director of the Office of Pre-Health Advising and Mentoring, acted as the course’s faculty adviser.

Usually the student instructors  took charge and led the discussions or introduced the guest speakers.

“He gave us a lot of freedom to run the class however we wanted, so we felt a great sense of responsibility to make sure things ran smoothly,” said junior Sarah Marmol, who was one of the student instructors.

Gaines and Melanie Georgmaier, an adviser in the School of Nursing and Health Studies, came up with the goals and objectives of the course, but the student instructors did the rest.

“We designed the week-to-week curriculum and lessons that would be taught, speakers that would come in, and assignments,” Marmol said.

Marmol, a neuroscience major on the pre-med track, thought it was valuable that the class was run by peers.

Junior Stephanie Ioannou, a biology major on the pre-med track, said that being a student instructor was a rewarding experience. She especially enjoyed planning the course.

“I appreciated being able to serve as a resource to students and, through the course, encouraging them to take the responsibility of enhancing their portfolios,” Ioannou said.

Students interacted with a panel of medical students from the Miller School of Medicine and practiced their interview skills with Gaines.

Junior Shreya Baid, a student in the class, said the course was helpful.

“I gained knowledge of new resources that could make me a better competitor as a medical school applicant,” Baid said.

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About Author

Lyssa Goldberg is online editor of The Miami Hurricane. She is a senior majoring in journalism and political science with a minor in math. She has interned at Mashable and the Miami New Times, and her work has also been featured in The Huffington Post.

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