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C-4
Educational Policy Committee


The Educational Policy conducted the following business during the 2005-06 academic year:

Completed Issues
1. Proposed changes to the Definition of University Honors. This motion was presented to the Faculty Council (see D 4524 and D 4779-4780).
2. Considered a proposal from the McCombs School of Business to offer half-credit courses. It was the opinion of the committee that such a change was not needed University-wide, and so no action was taken.


Outstanding Issues
1. Discussion about the DemTex Project (brought to the committee by students) is ongoing. Where it stands is an issue regarding students leading these classes. It will require consultation with the provost’s office to finalize. A copy of the proposal can be found below.
2. Working on recommendations to Faculty Council on the core curriculum. This will be completed in August and presented to the Faculty Council during the 06-07 academic year.


PROPOSAL FOR
DEMOCRATIC EDUCATION AT TEXAS
FOR-CREDIT PILOT PROGRAM

Revised April 15, 2006
By Kan Yan
DemTex Coordinating Director

Background

A group of outstanding students have established a program for student-initiated courses at The University of Texas at Austin. The program, Democratic Education at Texas (DemTex), would enhance our curriculum and improve our undergraduate academic experience.

Extensive student-initiated course programs have functioned for decades with great success at UC Berkeley, Tufts, and Oberlin. Similar programs have recently sprouted up at UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz, UC Los Angeles, and Stanford University. Student leaders at the UT San Antonio have contacted students involved with DemTex to learn about UT Austin’s progress toward a program because UTSA administrators have expressed interest in a student-initiated courses program.

The model for DemTex is adapted from The Program for Democratic Education at Cal (DeCal) at the University of California Berkeley.1 The proposed DemTex For-Credit Pilot Program (DemTex Pilot) would offer University faculty members and capable students a chance to create peer-education courses.

Under the direct supervision and mentoring of a faculty member, who would act as the instructor of record, students would produce course proposals and syllabuses. If the faculty member certifies the proposed course to be of substantive academic merit, she may offer to act as the Faculty Sponsor for the proposed course by establishing a contract stipulating the relationship and division of responsibilities between the faculty sponsor and the student facilitator(s) in the operation of the course.

If the DemTex Joint Student-Faculty Advisory Committee selects the proposed course, the course would then be offered the following semester as a One-Hour Pass/Not Pass seminar. This system of accountability is comparable to independent or group study courses where faculty members guide students with autonomous academic projects. The major difference between these two models would be that, since the faculty sponsor will not directly choose the students who enroll in the course, a Pass/Not Pass will be assigned rather than the grade which would normally be assigned in an independent or group study course.

Student facilitators will propose a pass or not pass and present their reasoning to the faculty sponsor, who will ultimately be responsible for assigning those grades. This is similar to group work in classes where students rate each other’s performance and the professor accepts their evaluations. Moreover, existing courses at the University, such as John Trimble’s Rhetoric 325M course, allow students to determine one another’s final grades in this fashion.

The DemTex program includes an ideological component which promotes democratic, egalitarian pedagogical theory, and practice through the development of peer-learning communities. Students are encouraged to evaluate their educational experience by taking an active role in deciding the method and content of courses. Although the self-selective process of becoming a student facilitator usually draws outstanding students with great interest and experience in their fields, the student is not the “teacher” of the course. The student is the facilitator of a peer-education course, and the facilitator’s main role is to spark discussion, encouraging peers to ask and answer their own questions. The experience allows students to explore an area of common interest in a community of peers.

The students involved in DemTex have already implemented a number of successful non-credit courses but ardently believe that for-credit courses are necessary to fulfill the potential benefits of a successful program.

In spring 2005 the University’s Student Government passed a motion in support of Democratic Education at Texas proving student interest in the program. In fall 2006, the Senate of College Councils will add DemTex as an agency and is in the process of providing a physical space for the program.

Rationale
The Task Force on Curricular Reform

The October 27, 2005, Report of the Task Force on Curricular Reform focused on the necessity of improving the “learning experience of undergraduate students, especially in their first and second years.”2 Concerning the University’s difficulties in addressing this issue, the task force stated, “Enrollment and funding pressures have created a high student-faculty ratio, which limits the number of available courses, especially those that focus on writing and speaking and on other instruction intensive skills.”
  • DemTex courses, at no cost to the University, would circumvent the pressures of the high student-faculty ratio, to provide small seminar-style courses to undergraduates from all majors and backgrounds.
  • These peer-facilitated courses are intended to be socially engaging with a strong emphasis on interpersonal communication, allowing learning environments where students are encouraged to engage the pedagogical process as well as the subject matter. As such, these courses not only provide intimate communities for learning but also encourage critical thinking and public speaking.
  • Because faculty-run seminar courses at the University are generally offered for upper-division students, first- and second-year students rarely have the opportunity to be inspired by seminar-style courses. The availability of DemTex courses to these students could prove extraordinarily valuable to their educational development.
UT’s Commission of 125
In its 2004 study, UT’s Commission of 125 announced "Strategic Initiative One: A New Core Curriculum" — among other motivations for a new core curriculum, the Commission believed that shared academic topics should be implemented so that undergraduates could benefit from increased intellectual interaction, resulting in discussions outside the classroom and the formation intellectual bonds between students. In their announcement, the Commission outlined what every student should experience to "receive a first-class educational experience:"
  • Receive a broad education that includes exposure to culture, literature, foreign languages, the humanities, and the arts.
  • Explore mathematics, science, and technology.
  • Learn to think and read critically, write cogently, speak persuasively, and work both independently and as part of a team.
  • Engage in open discussion, inquiry, discovery, research, problem-solving, and learning to learn.
  • Examine questions of ethics and attributes of effective leadership.
  • Acquire a sense of history and the global community together with a respect for other cultures.3
  • DemTex directly addresses the goals of discussions outside the traditional classroom as well as the formation of bond between students in a learning community.
  • At universities with comparable student-initiated course programs, the bulk of student-initiated courses traditionally fall into the Commission’s subject areas that necessitate broadening, including courses that promote intercultural awareness.4
  • The format of the seminar class is particularly conducive to critical thinking and public speaking, and the ideological component of DemTex strongly encourages all participants “to learn how to learn.”
  • The student-facilitator of the DemTex course necessarily undergoes a practical and demanding exercise in leadership.
The Boyer Report
The Task Force for Curricular Reform’s report also cited the 1998 report of the Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University, which described undergraduate education shortcomings as a phenomenon shared by public research universities across the nation. 5

By admitting a student, any college or university commits itself to provide maximal opportunities for intellectual and creative development. These should include:
1. Opportunities to learn through inquiry rather than simple transmission of knowledge.
2. Training in the skills necessary for oral and written communication at a level that will serve the student both within the university and in postgraduate professional and personal life .6
  • The spirit of DemTex is undoubtedly captured in this Bill of Rights. The experience of researching, designing, and facilitating a class is perhaps the ultimate opportunity for undergraduate intellectual and creative development at the University.
  • One of the principles of DemTex is to promote egalitarian education. Influenced by the pedagogical thinker, Paulo Freire, DemTex courses are encouraged to promote sharing and constructing ideas rather than what Freire calls the “banking concept of education,” in which ideas are simply transmitted.7
  • Not only would the experience of facilitating a course certainly provide the student facilitator with communication training, but the seminar format and ideological approach would also produce a classroom conducive to practice in communication.
The report further proclaimed that the student in a research university has additional rights, including the following:
1. Expectation of and opportunity for work with talented senior researchers to help and guide the student’s efforts.
2. Options among fields of study and directions to move within those fields, including areas and choices not found in other kinds of institutions.
3. Opportunities to interact with people of backgrounds, cultures, and experiences different from the student’s own and with pursuers of knowledge at every level of accomplishment, from freshmen students to senior research faculty.8
  • The student facilitators are granted a unique opportunity to work with talented senior researchers on a project that is of common interest to the facilitator and the faculty sponsor.
  • A prominent goal of DemTex is to fill holes in the current curriculum as well as to innovate new and interdisciplinary ways of addressing issues. Stanford's Student-Initiated Course program produced student-designed courses that eventually turned into faculty-taught courses.9 This spirit of innovation has the potential to vastly broaden the available fields of study as well as the latitude within disciplines; UC Berkeley alone is offering 121 student-initiated courses for the fall 2005 semester.
  • The peer-learning environment created in DemTex courses would provide an ideal situation for interacting with people of differing backgrounds. In fact, a large number of classes offered through programs at Berkeley and Stanford focus on cultural education. A student at Berkeley described his freshman experience with one of the more popular DeCal courses as an introduction to understanding other people.10
The Boyer Report’s concluding recommendations are encapsulated in the section entitled, “Ten Ways to Change Undergraduate Education.” DemTex courses would further seven of the ten proposed changes.
1. Make Research-Based Learning the Standard
2. Build on the Freshman Foundation
3. Remove Barriers to Interdisciplinary Education
4. Link Communication Skills and Course Work
5. Use Information Technology Creatively
6. Culminate with a Capstone Experience
7. Cultivate a Sense of Community11
  • DemTex courses would provide the student facilitator with the opportunity to engage in an in-depth academic endeavor that will require collaborative research with a faculty mentor.
  • As the report notes, freshmen have the least options in terms of available courses. This is unfortunate because freshmen need “new subjects that broaden their horizons and give them a sense of the adventure of learning.” 12 DemTex courses make available small-size seminar courses that will prove valuable to the educational development of first- and second-year students.
  • As mentioned above, innovate interdisciplinary approaches are common and encouraged in student-initiated courses.
  • Almost all the courses requested media capable rooms to experiment with educational technology. A number of the courses proposed during the fall 2005 semester were based on computer programming.
  • A capstone project would serve as the highlight of undergraduate education, and the teaching of a class would serve as an excellent project. At a Berkeley end-of-semester debriefing session, “25 student course facilitators said that their DeCal experience had been among their most challenging and rewarding at Berkeley.” Unsurprised, Berkeley’s Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Christina Maslach responded by saying, “As every faculty member knows, teaching is one of the best ways to learn.”13
  • DemTex is fundamentally a program intended to create intellectual communities.
Designing and facilitating a student-initiated class provides students just the kind of mentorship, sustained, applied research, oral communication skills, and interaction with diverse members of the campus community recommended by the Boyer report. Enrolling in a course provides opportunities for critical thinking about the educational process as well as the subject matter in peer-learning seminars, which are of particular value to first- and second-year students who would be otherwise unable to enroll in seminar courses.

The Necessity of Credit

[C]redit is the strongest form of incentive—without credit, these classes will be sparsely and sporadically attended, and would not gain the committed attention of any student. Serious academic pursuits are not built around ‘auditors’. Also, 1 hour is a small number and does not create competition with standard courses. Finally, if activity classes—which have no academic components—are offered for hours, student-initiated courses rightly should be too.14
—Stanford Student-Initiated Course Program


Qualitative interviews with former DemTex participants have consistently shown the need for credit. After initially offering courses under the auspices of a for-credit program, fourteen courses were proposed in the first semester when the least publicity was available. When credit was removed, only four of these classes were able to continue as students stopped going to the courses, citing lack of recognition.

The courses that continued had to adjust their curriculum to produce less-demanding work to justify spending time on the non-credit venture. Facilitators of the courses often said they were unable to achieve their intended goals because of this hurdle.

Accreditation is the basis upon which the potential success of DemTex rests. As DemTex course facilitators and potential students learned of the loss of credit during the fall 2005, interest decreased and courses did not attract enough students to continue. The loss of educational potential is well illustrated by the many possible benefits listed above in this proposal.

Concerning Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) accreditation requirements, the designation of the faculty supervisor as the instructor of record has proven adequate for programs at comparable universities. The program is comparable to an independent or group study course where the faculty member is ultimately responsible for the structure and outcome of the course but does not participate in the day-to-day educational processes. This is the method by which Berkeley and other UC schools have run their programs for decades operating under the similar accreditation rules of the Western Association of Colleges and Schools (WACS).

Concerning the payment of tuition for student-facilitated courses, students have paid flat-rate tuition since fall 2005, ensuring that full-time students will not pay additional costs for DemTex courses. Even in situations where students would pay for the DemTex credit, those students should also be allowed to knowingly pay for such a course.

Plan for the University of Texas at Austin

Below is the plan for a three-year pilot of for-credit DemTex courses at The University of Texas at Austin. The plan includes a final review process concerning the continuation of a permanent for-credit DemTex program.

Table 1. Summary of Responsibilities for the Academic Year
 
Semester A
Semester B
Student Facilitator Identifies a faculty sponsor and prepares course proposal for sponsorship.
Writes course syllabus and establishes the nature of faculty sponsor relationship. Attends facilitation seminar.
Facilitates proposed course and works with faculty sponsor as stipulated in their course contract.
Faculty Sponsor Agrees to sponsor Student Facilitator, advises on seminar concept for course proposal.
Aids in syllabus development. Discusses the nature of faculty sponsor relationship.
Supervises and advises student on facilitating the proposed course in their agreed upon method.
DemTex Coordinating Board Facilitates the day-to-day operation of the program and prepares documents for departmental processing. Implements evaluation methods.
Joint Student-Faculty Advisory Committee Reviews applications and meets to discuss the on-going operation and long-term sustainability of the program. Meets to discuss the on-going operation and long-term sustainability of the program.
Reviews evaluations from prior semester and produces semester report on the findings.


Role of the Student Facilitator
Semester A: Proposal and Training
The student facilitator would be the initiator of the DemTex course. She would be responsible for developing a class and filling out the Class Proposal Form as well as finding and garnering the support of a faculty sponsor. Producing a course description and syllabus, she would collaborate on the proposed class with the faculty member and secure the faculty member’s sponsorship with a Faculty Sponsor Form. The student facilitator and faculty sponsor would draft a contract detailing the extent and method of their collaboration.

If the DemTex Coordinating Board accepts the proposal, the student facilitator will be required to attend a training seminar. The Center for Teaching Effectiveness would develop and administer the seminar as a Special Interest Workshop, which the center offers on demand. 15The seminar would include an orientation to university classroom policy and instruction on facilitating small, peer-education seminars.

One week after the release of the course schedule, the student facilitator would turn in a room and meeting time request to the Humanities Department.

Semester B: Facilitation
The student facilitator would conduct the proposed course, working with her faculty sponsor in the manner agreed upon in the contract, established during Semester A.

Role of the Faculty Sponsor
Semester A:
The faculty sponsor is the instructor of record and is responsible for the caliber of academic content in the course. The faculty sponsor would meet with the prospective student-facilitator to discuss the course concept and consult on the course syllabus. If the faculty sponsor agrees to sponsor the course, she fills out the Faculty Sponsor Form, affirming her position as instructor of record for the proposed course and assuring the University of the validity and academic value of the proposed course. The faculty sponsor and student facilitator would then draft a coloration contract to decide on the extent and method of their collaboration during the semester when the course is offered.

Semester B:
The faculty sponsor meets with the student facilitator to mentor in accordance with the method agreed upon in Semester A.

Role of the DemTex Coordinating Board
General:
The DemTex Coordinating Board is a registered student organization established to provide student-facilitated courses and to promote democratic, egalitarian education at The University of Texas at Austin. It is currently undergoing discussions to become an agency of Student Government.

The DemTex Coordinating Board would be charged administering the course creation process as well as with informing facilitators of their responsibilities. Aiding the Center for Teaching Effectiveness, the board would offer suggestions for the Special Interest Workshop.

Semester A:
The DemTex Coordinating Board would be charged with administering the course proposal process. They would publicize DemTex opportunities to students and solicit course proposals.

Semester B:
The DemTex Coordinating Board would be charged with organizing the assessment of DemTex courses through methods that the board develops and implements.

Role of the Joint Student-Faculty Advisory Committee
General:
The Joint Student-Faculty Advisory Committee would serve to choose the DemTex courses to be offered. They would also evaluate the success of the program and offer suggestions for its continuation. Considering the regular turnover of student leadership, the permanence of faculty advisors would ensure the program’s consistent quality. The Joint Student-Faculty Advisory Committee would meet once a semester to evaluate the program and produce an assessment report each semester called the DemTex Semester Report.

At the start of the spring 2008 semester, the Joint Student-Faculty Advisory Committee would be charged with producing a report on the possibility of continuing the DemTex project as a permanent program and, if desired, would produce a proposal for that permanent program to continue starting in the fall 2009 semester.

Semester A:
After reviewing the proposals, the Joint Student-Faculty Advisory Committee would decide on an appropriate group of courses to offer based on student demand for courses, course quality, and effectiveness in terms of the pilot program assessment. The Joint Student-Faculty Advisory Committee would also meet to discuss the on-going DemTex program and evaluate the long-term sustainability of the program.

Semester B:
The Joint Student-Faculty Advisory Committee would meet to discuss the on-going DemTex program operation and evaluate the long-term sustainability of the program. They would also evaluate the assessment information, collected by the DemTex Coordinating Board and proceed to write a report on those results with recommendations to improve the program.

Administrative Details
  • Funding: The program would be funded at no cost to the University. Funding from student governance organizations and other student organization grants would supply funding necessary for basic operation.
    Students would also be able to allot an optional student fee to support the facilitation of DemTex courses. An option would be added to the optional fees portion of student registration, presenting students with the option to pay $1.00 toward the facilitation of DemTex courses.
  • Student Qualification: Any student at The University of Texas at Austin may propose or enroll in a DemTex course.
  • Student Awareness: A fair evaluation of the program would require heavy student participation, necessitating sufficient student awareness of the program. While the DemTex Coordinating Board would advertise within their capabilities, the success of the pilot courses would be greatly improved by a university-wide email informing all students of the opportunity to participate as both facilitators and students.
  • Course Schedule Listing: The pilot DemTex courses would be listed under Humanities 125K on a Pass/Not Pass basis (unless the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost is willing to create a lower-division, humanities listing that will allow 1-hour pass/not pass courses). The listing of the courses would appear later than the initial publication of the course schedule and only on the Web-based schedule because student facilitators would need to schedule around the classes they plan to enroll in.
  • DemTex Classroom Space: Classroom space would be allocated through the Humanities Department.
  • DemTex Course Assessment: The Student Coordinating Board would develop and administer assessment of the pilot DemTex courses with qualitative and quantitative methods aimed at constructing the Semester Report (which is detailed below).
  • DemTex Semester Report: The Joint Student-Faculty Advisory Committee would be charged, following each semester of the Pilot Program, to release a DemTex Semester Report, which would analyze assessment results and propose necessary changes for future semesters of the For-Credit Pilot Program as well as the possible permanent program. Proposed changes would be submitted to the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost for review and, if approved, would be enacted immediately.
  • Cessation of Pilot Program and Possible Continuation of Permanent Program: The termination of the pilot program would be scheduled for fall 2009. During the spring 2008 semester, the Joint Student-Faculty Advisory Committee would report on the possibility of a continued permanent DemTex program and, if desired, would produce a proposal for that permanent program to begin in the fall 2009 semester.
Archie Holmes, chair


1DeCal Web site: http://www.decal.org/.

2 William Powers, et. al., Report of the Task Force on Curricular Reform, (Austin, TX: University of Texas at Austin, 2005) 1.

3“Two Strategic Initiatives,” The Commission of 125, http://www.utexas.edu/com125/strategic.html.

4“Fall 2005 Course Schedule,” The Program for Democratic Education at Cal, http://www.decal.org/current.php.

5 Shirley Strum Kenny, et. al., The Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University, Reinventing Undergraduate Education: A Blueprint for America's Research Universities, 1998.

6Kenny, 12.

7 Freire, Paulo, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Trans. Myra Bergman Ramos, (New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc., 1970), 72.

8 Kenny, 12-13.

9“SIC Enhances the Academic Climate at Stanford for the following reasons,” Student Initiated Courses, http://assu.stanford.edu/sic/.

10Pourya Khademi, UC Berkeley Student, Personal Interview, 25 Oct. 2005.

11Kenny, 14-36.

12Kenny, 19.

13 Edelstein, Wendy, “DeCal helps students teach one another,” Berkeleyan, 11 Feb. 2004.

14 “SIC Enhances the Academic Climate at Stanford for the following reasons,” Student Initiated Courses, http://assu.stanford.edu/sic/.

15Center for Teaching Effectiveness Special Interest Workshop: http://www.utexas.edu/academic/cte/facservices


  Updated 2006 August 29
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