Originally published in the Davidsonian, fall 2011.
Introductory Note from the Author:
Hi everyone. This column is meant to be an experiment in interactive, engaged journalism. Every week I will introduce a new idea for how to best prepare Davidson to meet its goals in the twenty-first century. These ideas will be largely focused on administrative measures, but they all carry at their center a concern for student interest, and none will come to pass without student support. I hope that each week people will write to me with a one-sentence reaction, and I will publish the three best reactions in the next week’s column. Moreover, I am actively seeking co-authors, who may contact me with ideas. I look forward to a year of exploration searching for ways to make our campus a better place.
Summary at a Glance:
This week’s idea: Classes 2.0
Budget estimate: $0 running costs, some startup costs to design the website
Who: Anyone who wants to convene a group around a subject
We learn everything at a liberal arts college, right? Courses abound, ranging from wilderness leadership to quantum physics and reaching everything in between. Everything, that is, except some of the skills we’ll most need. It’s great that this isn’t a vocational school, but seniors shouldn’t go into the world not knowing how to do their taxes or change a tire.
To this end, I propose a “Classes 2.0” system that would fill a definite gap on campus. Classes 2.0 would be a market-based parallel extracurricular program through which a variety of campus and community activities could be conducted. Essentially, Classes 2.0 would match campus and community members who have common interests in taking a class which is not offered through the college. These classes could be of academic, personal, or practical interest. There is a demonstrable lack of practical life training for graduating seniors. Therefore, classes that would interest graduating seniors would surely include instruction on personal finance, basic auto repair, cooking, and so on. These might become mainstays of the program.
On the other hand, zanier classes, such as beer appreciation or history of graffiti, could also be offered given demand. Generally, Classes 2.0 would allow professors and students to branch out in a low-stress environment into subjects they may not be able to explore in a full academic context.
Persons interested in offering a class would put a description on a web page before the semester, listing a fee if necessary, and individuals would be able to sign up on Classes 2.0, communicating with the instructor to figure out any details; the order could be reversed as well, as in Craigslist. The system would be very hands-off. There would be no cost to the college except the upkeep of a web interface where seekers and offerers of courses could interact.
The success of a similar system at UC-Berkeley, the necessity of practical training (“Life 101” for seniors), and the allure of fun courses combine to make this idea one that could contribute significantly to Davidson’s mission and character.
I was later requested to write a memo to the SGA on the subject of the Classes 2.0 system. This memo is below. To my knowledge, the matter never got far, though I had many high-level SGA officers approach me to learn more. Change is tough.
TO: Faheem Rathore
CC: Davidson College Student Government Association
FROM: Hayden Higgins
DATE: 29 November 2011
SUBJECT: Classes 2.0
You asked that I produce an executive summary of the proposed Classes 2.0 system, as well as a succinct roadmap of next steps that could be taken to make this happen. The goal is give students a place to learn outside of the parameters of Davidson’s liberal arts curriculum.
As I envision it, Classes 2.0 provides an arena in which students can pursue intellectual and practical interests unencumbered by the typical demands of curricular study. I see Classes 2.0 satisfying students’ desires to learn more about subjects that are too controversial, too practical, or too esoteric for study in our liberal arts context—for example, gardening, cooking, basic car maintenance, beer appreciation, Marxist Studies 101, and financial literacy classes might be offered.
Two models exist for satisfying the demand for such an arena. The first I will call the top-down model. In this model, a central authority researches student needs, recruits facilitators, and reserves space for the classes. The student need only sign up. In some sense this is like the winter terms employed by many colleges (and, once upon a time, this college). The second model I will call the bottom-up model. In this anarchic model, students meet in a central ‘marketplace’ (probably a web forum), express their desires, form groups, and make arrangements for a class on their own. The best model of this is the DeCal system that is highly popular at the University of California, Berkeley.
I suggest the following pathway for successfully implementing this system, broadly following a 2-year transition from the top-down to the bottom-up model:
-Semester 1 (Spring 2012): A small working group organized by SGA and supplemented with interested individuals arranges 3-5 pilot programs, perhaps focused on practical, post-Davidson life skills (“Life 101”).
-Semester 2 (Fall 2012): Successful pilot programs are continued under the supervision of the Committee. The option to self-organize with assistance from the Committee is offered. A website is launched where students can interact to organize classes.
-Semester 3 (Spring 2012): Similar to Semester 2, with a core group of courses administrated by the Committee and a fluctuating group of courses organized with their help by independent students
-Semester 4 (Fall 2013): The Committee falls away, and the entire system is run independently (like DeCal).
I hope that this explanation is clear and concise, while allowing flexibility for future adaptations. By focusing efforts on cultivating a core set of courses we will be able to develop a framework future student organizers can work through to offer their own independent courses. Please contact me with any questions.