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Students take education into their own hands

While the term “academics” may conjure up scenes of lecturing professors or even professor-led discussions around a seminar table, some Swarthmore students have created a different type of classroom experience. Student-led courses allow Swatties to home in on particular interests in curricula they have created themselves.

The College has made the process of creating student-led courses straightforward: Professors and other campus advisers serve as guides before the course commences.

One such course this fall, on monasticism, offered a group of about six students the chance to delve more deeply into their own interests in the subject.

“The course allows us to ask questions about community in an academic space,” says Lily Austin ’15, an education and Latin American studies major from Springfield, Pa. “Multiple experiences, including research I did for my Education Research for Social Change class, left me thinking about faith development and different ways of engaging that as an educator and peer. Beyond this, my faith played a big role: The course lets us explore academic questions in a personal way and personal questions in an academic way.”

While some question the academic rigor of courses directed by students, some professors note that these classes, which are typically graded on a credit/no-credit basis, lead students to push themselves in a dedicated effort to master the material.

“Ironically, students in these classes do as much or more than they would be doing if it were a professor-led course,” says Mark Wallace, professor of religion, who has advised many student-led courses. “They own the material, and they’re excited about this new area of study.”

Wallace also notes that Swarthmore’s commitment to academic rigor motivates students to take on and succeed in these types of courses.

“At a place like Swarthmore, where students come here excited to learn, this is one more iteration of the learning process,” says Wallace. “This lets students take leadership of their own education.”