Students run colloquia solo

Discussion-based class encourage students to take initiative

By Jon Berman | Section: Jan 29th, 2010 Issues, January 29th 2010 Print, News
The class, ReThinking Development, encourages student discussion.

The class, ReThinking Development, encourages student discussion.

Tulane introduced its first-ever student-run course this semester. The non-traditional class, called Rethinking Development, was facilitated by seniors Lauren Elliot and Kelly Jacques. It was inspired by a student-run course at Georgetown University.

The class consists of students with different academic backgrounds. It spans diverse areas of study, with students learning about international and post-development theory and its real-world applications. The goal of the course is to create a unique learning environment while reexamining commonly accepted paradigms about community development.

Elliot and Jacques started planning the course in April, and it continues to evolve with student input.

“We want them not only to be participating in conversation, but also have a say in how the class works,” Elliot said. “Our goal is to get to a point where everyone in the class has a role in facilitating and leading the discussion.”

Students had to apply to be in the class. Freshman Claire Barry heard about it through an e-mail from the Honors Program.

“I thought the idea of the class was interesting because you learn as much as you put into the class,” Barry said. “Without a professor in the classroom, everyone is able to express their ideas and learn to listen to each other.”

The semester is built around an integrative project, where students evaluate what they learned by either working with community organizations or leading discussions on issues they talked about in the class.

“It’s a project we’re going to be working on all semester, the core of the class,” Elliot said.

Professor Justin Wolfe serves as a faculty adviser for Rethinking Development. Since the course is run by the students, his role is mostly as a resource for the facilitators in case they need advice.

“Kelly [Jacques] and Lauren [Elliot] are really looking to challenge themselves and challenge their fellow students,” Wolfe said. “I feel, from talking to them, that any bumps in the road they and the students are encountering are more than made up for by the successes they’re having.”

Overall, Elliot and Jacques feel that it has so far been successful.

“The best part of a student-run course is the sense of community that can be created in the classroom when everyone is invested of the process of shaping that class,” Elliot said.

Wolfe said he thinks the class has gone well thus far.

“When you try something new, there are always unexpected struggles, but also the excitement of discovery,” Wolfe said. “My sense is that the students have been energized by the opportunity and challenge of seeing themselves as both teachers and students at the same time.”

Barry says it has been a challenging class because it made her reconsider what kind of society she has been raised in.

“It’s made me realize that there’s a lot we need to talk about within the Tulane community,” Barry said. “Sometimes we get caught inside of this Tulane bubble and forget we’re part of the big community.”

Elliot said that the student-run course eliminates an element of competition that prevents students from learning from one another.

“I am finally learning what it really means to listen, not for the point of arguing what I already believe, but for the sake of allowing someone else’s words to challenge my own limited worldview,” Elliot said.

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