Frequently Asked Questions - UCFTR


The Frequently Asked Questions that are specifically associated with the Undergraduate Course Facilitator Training and Resources Program.

Course Facilitators

UCFTR Course Facilitators

What is a student-initiated class, or “DeCal”?

DeCals are a unique feature of the UC Berkeley campus that enable students to design and facilitate a credit bearing course on any topic of their choosing. Adding 300+ courses to our school’s curriculum each year, DeCal courses and the students that lead them further Berkeley’s dedication to intellectual discovery and knowledge production. 

The “DeCal” nickname for these courses originates from the Democratic Education at Cal (DeCal) Program, a student group whose mission is to provide support, outreach, and publicity for classes initiated and facilitated by students. The Program’s success in publicizing classes has led, over the years, to the "DeCal" program name being used as a synonym for all student-initiated and -facilitated "directed group study" classes that fall under the 98/198 (for lower and upper division, respectively) special studies courses umbrella.

What are the requirements for creating a DeCal?

To propose the creation or return of a student-initiated special studies 98/198 (DeCal) course, you must have the following: 

  • Course Proposal Form (CPF)
  • Fully developed syllabus
  • Unit Value Worksheet (included in CPF packet)
  • Letter of Support from the course’s faculty sponsor
  • For first-time facilitators: training through one of UCFTR's facilitation and collaborative learning workshops

Please visit the website of the Academic Senate—the faculty-led governing body that makes decisions about the rules/regulations for, and reviews the proposals of, all student-led classes—for a full explanation of each element. Sponsoring departments may also have their own additional requirements for proposing a DeCal, as well as deadlines that fall earlier than that of the Senate. You can refer to this page for department-specific resources and contact information.

Note that some departments may ask you to turn in this proposal packet directly to them, while others may ask you to submit it to the Academic Senate (320 Stephens Hall) on the department's behalf. Once you've submitted your proposal you can choose to post your class on the DeCal website, where most students look for listings of student-initiated classes.

Do I have to attend training to be able to facilitate my course?

As of Spring 2018, the Academic Senate mandates that all first-time DeCal facilitators must complete training with the UCFTR. Visit our training workshops page to view the most up-to-date offerings. The deadline to fulfill this requirement is the same as the Academic Senate’s course proposal deadline (see below section).

If you have experience facilitating a 98/198 course before, check with your department to confirm if this experience fulfills your requirement, or if you would still need to complete training with UCFTR. 

What's the deadline for proposing a DeCal?

The Academic Senate’s deadline for proposing a DeCal and for fulfilling the first-time facilitator training requirement is always one month before the last day of instruction in the preceding semester (or summer). For specific course proposal deadline dates, click the “Deadlines” tab of the Senate’s website, or the Deadlines page of our website.

Note also that sponsoring departments may have their own additional requirements for proposing a DeCal, as well as deadlines that fall earlier than that of the Senate. You can refer to this page for department-specific resources and contact information.

What is a faculty sponsor and who can be considered an "Instructor of Record”?

Among other things, the faculty sponsor is an “Instructor of Record” who chooses to support your course and is thus responsible for reviewing, working with you to create, and signing off on your course proposal materials. A detailed description of the sponsor’s role and responsibilities can be found under the “Instructor of Record” section of the “Resources” tab on the Academic Senate’s website. There, you’ll find links to a Frequently Asked Questions page and a list of responsibilities on the Faculty Checklist page of the Course Proposal Form

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 of professors. If you're seeking sponsorship from anyone other than a regular faculty member of the department, it's best to confirm with your sponsoring department that the "Instructor of Record" you'd like to sponsor your course is authorized to do so.

Additionally, faculty generally can only sponsor one 98/198 course per semester (unless they get their Dean's approval for more), so we encourage you to begin your sponsor search as soon as you can. If you find yourself wondering how to reach out to prospective faculty sponsors, we recommend checking out the “How to Find a Faculty Mentor” page created by the Haas Scholars program. Several of the strategies listed there are also applicable to course facilitators looking for a faculty sponsor.

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

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 DeCal classes are undertakings on the scale of a major undergraduate research project: preparation should take a lot of the semester beforehand in the research process, and more time than you think the semester of its implementation.

Though the planning process for a class will vary depending on its structure, below are some recommendations to consider.

In the semester prior to launching your course:

  • you should allow yourself as many weeks to plan in advance 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 and 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
  • once you have found a potential faculty sponsor, you can solicit their feedback for the ongoing development of the class. Some may be amenable to sponsoring your course 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

When class is underway:

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

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

Academic Senate Regulation 760 provides the following guideline: one unit equals a minimum of three hours of work per week, or at least 45 total hours over a 15-week semester. This work includes time spent in class as well as time spent doing work outside of class. This adds up to 45 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), you can account for that in extra class time or work outside of class.

When mapping out the amount of work hours and units you want to assign your class, it’s helpful to think about your facilitation needs and semester timeline. For example, some facilitators choose to start their course several weeks into the semester, once the majority of students’ schedules have settled. This allows them to avoid the sometimes disruptive period of having multiple students adding and dropping the course. Other facilitators choose to run their class more intensely up until Thanksgiving or even spring break, but not after, leaving themselves and their students more time to spend on final work in other classes.

To help with your planning process, you can refer to the Academic Senate’s Unit Value Worksheet on page 2 of the Course Proposal Form (CPF) packet.

Can I enroll in my own class or get units/academic credit for facilitating?

You can't enroll in your own class for credit, nor can you receive units for facilitating your course. However, in some cases student facilitators can arrange to receive Independent Study (99/199) units for the work of creating their course with their faculty sponsor. The details of these arrangements vary on a case by case basis depending on the discretion of the sponsoring faculty and department, so we recommend reaching out to these parties directly for more information.

Faculty Sponsors and Departmental Staff

UCFTR Faculty Sponsors and Departmental Staff

Why should I sponsor a DeCal course?

Student-initiated courses have been a fixture of UC 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.

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 Carnivorous 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. Most who launch such an undertaking have the kind of initiative, passion, and intellectual curiosity that characterize the best scholar-leaders; choosing to sponsor a DeCal means taking an active role in guiding and helping further develop this exciting energy!

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

Among other things, the faculty sponsor of a DeCal is responsible for reviewing, working with the student(s) to create, and signing off on the course proposal materials (see the “Required Documents” page of the Academic Senate website for a list of these materials). Additionally, a detailed description of the sponsor’s role and responsibilities can be found underthe “Instructor of Record” section of the “Resources” tab on the Senate’s website. There, you’ll find links to a Frequently Asked Questions page and a list of responsibilities on the Faculty Checklist page of the Course Proposal Form

Who sets the deadlines for course approval?

At the outermost administrative level, the Academic Senate’s has established a deadline for course proposals and training fulfillment that always falls one month before the last day of instruction in the preceding semester (or summer). Apart from that, individual departments are at liberty to set their own additional requirements and internal deadlines at points earlier than this, to enable them to more smoothly manage their student-initiated course approval process.

We publicize information about department-specific deadlines and processes through the Department Contacts page of our website.

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

The campus's Risk Management Office can advise on faculty or departmental liability for events associated with the class they sponsor. Additionally, please note that course facilitators holding any activities off-campus should obtain a signed waiver from participating students in advance, whether the activity is voluntary or required.