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Course Facilitators

Q: What's the difference between a DeCal, a 98/198 special studies, or a student-initiated class?

A: As Gertrude Stein once wrote, "A rose is a rose is a rose." This kind of applies here.

At one level there's no difference: all are different terms for what can be the same thing. Basically, many--though not all--departments allow for students to initiate and facilitate a "directed group study" class, set aside as 98, for lower division, and 198, for upper division. (Some 98/198s are facilitated by graduate students, some by staff, so not every department's 98/198 classes are done by undergrads...)

DeCal, short for Democratic Education at Cal, is a student group whose mission is to advocate for, support, and publicize classes initiated and facilitated by students. The DeCal student group has been around since the early 1980s, and their success in publicizing classes has led, over the years, to the term "decal" functioning as a near-synonym for "student-initiated & -facilitated class."

Q: What are the basic bureaucratic requirements for getting a student-initiated class up and running?

A: Every student-initiated special studies 98/198 class needs to have a signed Course Proposal Form (opens PDF file) on file at the Academic Senate. Along with this form, you're to submit both a syllabus for the class, and a series of answers to five questions regarding the course's content delivery methods, learning objectives, and oversight (all of which are asked on the Course Proposal Form). Some departments ask you to submit this form (and its accompanying documents) to them directly, some ask you to take them over to the Academic Senate (320 Stephens Hall) on the department's behalf.

Once you've finished filing the campus administration's Course Proposal Form, you can choose to post your class on the DeCal website, the place where most students look for listings of student-initiated classes. If you do this, DeCal will ask for your signed Course Proposal Form, a copy of your course syllabus, and a statement articulating the connections between your class and "democratic education." The listing of your course info is done by you on an admin page off the DeCal website, access to which you get from DeCal in an email once they've received your paperwork at their office (320 Eshleman Hall). More info about posting your class on the DeCal site can be found at Step #7, on DeCal's Start a class! page.

Q: What's the deadline for all the paperwork?

A: The language on the Course Proposal form states that the form should be filed with the Academic Senate no later than "one month before the end of instruction in the preceding semester (or summer)." Because the course proposal form must first go through the sponsoring department's approval process, check with your sponsoring department to see what their internal deadline will be. DeCal and UCFTR try to keep updated about various departmental deadlines, and have developed a list of departmental contacts and of departmental deadlines.

No matter what your department's deadline, for many reasons it's best to get started early in the semester before your class would run.

Q: Do I have to attend any training or orientation sessions to be able to do my class?

A: At a campus-wide level, no special training or orientation sessions are required of undergraduate course facilitators at this time. The Division of Undergraduate Education recommends that students avail themselves of the resources such as those available at UCFTR, and some departments have required of students facilitating 98/198s that they attend at least one UCFTR training workshop. Check with your department to see what their policy on this is. A longer treatment of the topic of training requirements can be found here.

Q: What's the difference between a 98/198 and a 97/197?

A: The 98/198 designators are for lower & upper division "directed group study" classes, or "special studies" classes, which can be student-initiated & facilitated. This designator is appropriate for most student-initiated classes that take place on campus.

The 97/197 designator is for lower & upper division "field studies" classes, which would be classes designed around an off-campus placement or around "field" work. These can be student-initiated & -facilitated, but as of now the campus-wide Course Proposal Form and its deadline does not apply to them.

Keep in mind that you always need to double-check with your department to be sure they have the capacity to list student-initiated 97/197s or 98/198s (some list the upper but not the lower division field & group study classes, for instance), and to find out whether they have any unique procedures for establishing those classes. More info about 97-98-99 distinctions can be found at this Academic Senate regulations page.

Q: Once I have an idea for a class, what should I do next?

A: Get a faculty sponsor on board! Without a faculty sponsor, even the most fabulously well-planned student-initiated class can't happen. Faculty are only supposed to sponsor one 98/198 per semester (unless they get their Dean's approval for more), so you should start looking as soon as you can. Keep in mind that even if you find someone who loves your class idea, they may already be "booked up."

Once you have piqued the curiosity--and hopefully garnered the support--of a faculty sponsor, you can solicit their feedback for the ongoing development of the class. Some may be amenable to sponsoring the class, provided you fill out some underdeveloped aspects of it--something you can only do if you started the sponsor search early enough in the semester.

Q: Who can act as my faculty sponsor or "Instructor of Record"?

A: A number of specific teaching titles are authorized by the Academic Senate to sponsor group-study courses, running from various types of Lecturers to various types Professors. If you're seeking sponsorship from anyone other than a regular faculty member of the department, it's best confirm with the sponsoring department that the "Instructor of Record" you'd like for your course is authorized. All Deans and Chairs should know just who in the department is capable of holding "Instructor of Record" status for your class. The Academic Personel Office keeps a list of Deans and Chairs here, which includes email links. If you contact your department's Dean or Chair, do keep in mind that this person will be one of your two signatories on the Course Proposal Form. So present your question or case with appropriate clarity and diplomacy.

Q: What if I'm having a hard time finding a sponsor?

A: Check this great page from the Haas Scholars program, entitled How to Find a Faculty Mentor, pretty much the same strategies apply to course facilitators looking for a faculty sponsor. You can help potential faculty sponsors know their responsibilities by providing them a copy of the Faculty Checlkist (opens PDF file) , available from the campus' Special Studies website.

And remember, you can always come by the UCFTR office and get help sharpening your course proposal first, so that you can bring a strong idea to potential faculty sponsors.

This page (opens Excel doc) provides a list of the main contact people for room assignments in each department.

Q: How much planning time should I allow for getting a good class together?

A: More than you think! The average professor-led class is the result of years of research and fine-tuning, and it's not unusual for GSIs to spend up to a year researching and preparing a class for the first time. Most well-thought-out student-initiated classes are undertakings on the scale of a major undergraduate research project: it should take a lot of the semester beforehand in the research process, and more time than you think the semester of its implementation.

With the caveat that the planning process for a class will vary depending on its structure, here are some useful rules of thumb:

in the semester before:

  • you should allow as many weeks of advance planning as you'll have of class meetings
  • dealing with logistics can be time-consuming--and distract from the core work of polishing core class content--so start early & stay focussed
  • consider your class syllabus and core course curriculum akin to a research project: you need time to season your thoughts on the subject's potential, time to find the best source material, and time to reconsider the best way in which to present it--or to draw it out from your students

when class is underway:

  • most teachers spend at least two hours in prep time outside class for every hour spent inside class
  • most teachers working with material for the first time spend three or more hours in prep per every one hour in class

Q: How do I figure out how many units to assign my class?

A: Academic Senate Regulation 760 provides the following guideline: one unit of credit is equivalent to three hours of work per week, per 14-week semester. This adds up to 42 hours of work each semester for each unit.

In a standard lecture or seminar class structure, that would work out to one hour of meeting time, and two hours of work outside the meeting (for readings, writing assignments, problem sets, discussion, etc.), for each unit earned. If your class starts after the beginning of the semester (e.g., 2nd or 3rd week), just account for that in extra class time or work outside of class. And if you won't be assigning work outside of class, just increase the class time & decrease the unit load (e.g., meet 2 hrs. a week for 1 unit).

This Academic Senate page has all the info on it is --scroll down to "II. UNIT VALUE" for the goods.

Q: So could my class meet for a ton of hours per week, for just a few weeks?

A: Technically, yes, if you could get it to work into people's class schedules. Just use the 42 hrs:1 unit ratio as your guide. Plenty of students look to DeCals as 11th-hour alternatives when their other classes fall through, so by starting several weeks into the semester, you could attract these students (which has its pluses and its minuses!) and yet not suffer the disruptions of a constantly re-constituting class identity. You could also run the class more intensely up until the Thanksgiving or even spring breaks, but not after, and leave yourself and your students time to deal with final work in other classes.

Q: I want to make space in my schedule & on my transcript for the work I'm doing to run the class. Can I enroll in my own class for credit?

A: You can't enroll in your own class for credit, but you do have other options. You can arrange for an Independent Study (99/199) with your faculty sponsor. Or, if you would like to gain and polish further skills as a facilitator as you get credit for your work, you can enroll in The Craft of Facilitating with UCFTR for 3 units: almost half the credit is assigned merely for your field work facilitating your class.

Faculty Sponsors & Departmental Staff

Q: A student asked me to sponsor a DeCal course: I'd like to, but what are my responsibilities?

A: This very question is answered on the Pedagogy and Course Enrichment page of the Faculty Help Desk site. That page provides links to the DUE Special Studies web page, as well as to relevant portions of the Academic Senate regulations site.

Q: Aren't these classes academically suspect scandal magnets? Why should I sponsor one?

A: Student-initiated courses have been a fixture of Berkeley's academic landscape since the early 1980s. Since that time, thousands of students have educated tens of thousands of their peers, in subject areas ranging from dance practica to media studies to language instruction to breaking political issues. As is so often the case, the noteworthy exceptions draw attention from a much subtler and more complex truth.

Some classes that have first appeared as "DeCals" have gone on to become part of their departments' regular offerings (e.g. Tagalog); some have been passed on as DeCals continuously for over 15 years (e.g. Joy of Garbage); some provide departments with no other undergraduate presence an opportunity to draw undergrads into the field (e.g. West Wing and Public Policy); some have generated curriculum for the sponsoring professor's core classes and won the student facilitator the Departmental Citation (e.g. Intro to Carniverous Plants). In short, student-initiated class topics can be as widely varied as those offered by faculty in the Freshman-Sophomore Seminar series, and they have the potential to offer the students who facilitate them, as well as their peers who take them, no less exceptional an educational experience.

Sponsoring a student-initiated class offers faculty the opportunity to provide rich research and pedagogical mentorship on a project which bears immediate fruit--an impact in the classroom, arguably the most relevant discursive space for undergraduates. Many students undertaking these projects are doing so as an opportunity to build research and teaching skills in anticipation of post-graduate work in the discipline. And without doubt, most who launch such an undertaking have the kind of initiative, passion, and intellectual curiosity that characterize the best scholar-leaders. Most faculty find that guiding that kind of energy is ultimately far more rewarding than deflecting it.

Q: How can I find out about faculty or departmental liability for events associated with the class?

A: The campus' Risk Management Office can advise on particular questions associated with faculty or departmental liability for events associated with the class for which the faculty and department are sponsors. Course facilitators holding any activities off campus should obtain a signed waiver from participating students in advance, whether the activity is voluntary or required (links are to PDF downloads of campus waiver forms).

Q: Who sets the deadlines for course approval?

A: It is ultimately the departments who determine precise deadlines for the receipt of Course Proposal Forms. At the outermost administrative level, the Academic Senate has, via the Course Proposal Form, approved the following language governing deadlines: "The deadline for submitting the form to Committee on Courses of Instruction (COCI) is one month before the end of instruction in the preceding semester (or summer)."

Individual departments, further, are at liberty to set their own internal deadlines at points earlier than this, to enable them to manage their student-initiated course approval process more smoothly. Many have done so.

DeCal tries to publicize and clarify whatever they can about departmental and campus policies. They have absolutely no deadlines regarding forms, since it is not to their office that the Course Proposal Form originals are to be delivered. DeCal asks students wishing to publicize a course on their website to submit photocopies of signed Course Proposal Forms, along with copies of their course syllabus.