UC Riverside has launched R’Courses, a pilot program where undergraduates will be facilitating two-unit classes under the mentorship of a faculty member, which seeks to encourage discussion outside of a regular classroom environment. Ranging from “Disney: Race, Gender and Sexuality” to “Logic and Creativity,” nine official courses are available for open enrollment until the second week of spring quarter.. The initiative, modeled after UC Berkeley’s Democratic Education at CAL (DeCal) courses, is the first of its kind at UCR.
“The democratic education model is always trying to get away from the hierarchy like professors up here and students down here. (The model) is more circular … so the student facilitator is putting this topic in the middle that everyone is responsible for, contributing to and learning from,” said R’Courses and Educational Initiatives Coordinator Elizabeth Thrush.
Approved by the Academic Senate in fall 2013, the initiative received calls for proposals from interested students in March, who were given the opportunity to make their envisioned course a reality. The student facilitator overseeing the course and the enrolled students will earn two units by fulfilling the class as part of an independent study or internship (198I or 190) in participating departments. Students must register through the advisor of each department pertaining to the class of interest.
An R’Course by undergraduate Colette King, entitled “Walking Dead and Our Underlying Culture,” focuses on how zombies reflect cultural anxieties and meanings and explores how extreme situations contribute to character development throughout the show. Hoping to create a more communal learning atmosphere, King encourages peer-to-peer interaction in terms of both advertising and teaching the course. Currently, there is no minimum or maximum in the number of enrolled students or facilitators per class.
“Usually I’m horrified by scary images, but I saw ‘The Walking Dead’ strangely applicable to life because they’re playing real people trying to survive in extreme situations and it started to make me think, ‘What would I do in a zombie apocalypse?’” said King. “It’s important for people to talk about this because our society is changing all of the time.”
Student facilitators will work with their respective faculty mentors to determine class location and no cost will be accrued for initiating the program this quarter, but some courses may require budgeting for additional resources in the future. “The goal is to foster student innovation and leadership. We want to see students’ creativity really come out in the creation of the courses, in the course design and in the actual discussion of the courses,” Thrush said. This is a chance for new knowledge to be shared and for students to be empowered.”
ASUCR Vice President of External Affairs Kareem Aref and Elections Director Chris Sanchez are also leading the class, “We are Powerful 001,” which focuses on student activism, social movements and the institutional layers of UC student government. “The university always says that it has to be a student-centric university and I think this is a huge step in making that true,” expressed Sanchez.
Aref says the class is “not easy,” requiring students to read 30 pages a week, submit multiple journals, and learn to write and present resolutions to ASUCR and UCSA.
“I think coming out of our class, ideally, students are going to come out with a sense of empowerment and sense of ability to do whatever they want in government and student government,” Aref said. “We’re giving them a really good basis. For a two-unit course, we’re definitely making them earn it.”
As a pilot program, the R’Course initiative still faces the obstacle of needing extensive advertising, potential scheduling conflicts and incorporating itself into the iLearn site. On a last note, Aref gave his final piece of advice: “Take our class and if you want something that you want to teach, go teach it.”
Receiving overwhelming support from many campus departments, R’Courses are being planned for this and next spring quarter, but Thrush hopes to create a quarterly “rolling” basis for the initiative one day. She believes that the program is a “very affirming process,” which offers students a chance to bring their personal strengths into an academic setting.
“Another dream is that we’ll have this huge diversity of offerings that represent the diversity of the campus,” Thrush said. “It’s a great experience that I think most students can contribute to in some way.”