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Thursday, September 19, 2019 — Houston, TX 78°

Students teach students

The diverse topics covered in this semester's student-instructed College courses range from quirky to activist.


Photo by Tina Liu

By ​Max Lin     9/27/17 1:19am

Every student knows the frustration of underperforming in a class. But most haven’t been voted out by their classmates afterwards.

Survivor: Social Strategies isn’t a traditional class. Like other College courses, it’s completely student-instructed.

Candice Liu, a sophomore at Sid Richardson College, said she was inspired to teach the class by the titular reality TV program, which “shows social behaviors that people can analyze to explain social conflicts and solutions.”

In addition to the familiar lectures and readings that characterize most classes, Survivor: Social Strategies features a semester-long in-class game which borrows its rules from the show. Students compete in physical and mental challenges, hunt for immunity idols hidden around campus, form strategic alliances, and indeed, vote each other off.

“People can get really caught up in the ‘Survivor’ game before they even realize it,” Liu said.

Students enjoy the departure from standard classroom fare.

“It’s different from a normal Rice class because it challenges me in new ways,” Laura Vargas Infante, a sophomore at Sid Richardson College, said. ”In my usual classes I’m challenged by reading dense material or challenging homework problems, but this challenges me in new and exciting tasks like racing to find clues hidden in a building or building puzzles with a team.”

Other COLL classes offer similarly unique learning experiences.

Eric Pan, a senior at McMurtry College, teaches Philosophy of Coffee. The course syllabus covers the history, economics and chemistry of coffee, in addition to brewing methods and tastings.

“As we begin with learning about coffee’s development in history, we actually taste beans that are roasted and prepared in similar manners that they were hundreds of years back,” Pan said.

After learning about different brewing methods, students will be prepared to identify differences in coffee during tastings.

“The most rewarding part for me is seeing that shift from ‘I just taste coffee in this cup’ to ‘I can actually find walnuts and milk chocolate in this coffee!’” Pan added.

Elaine Shen, a McMurtry senior, teaches Seafood for Thought, which examines seafood and its relationship to personal consumption and ecological conservation efforts. This semester, a former employee of the Downtown Aquarium and the owner of Pokéology will come talk to the class about their experiences with marine resource use. Pokéology is a Rice Village restaurant that specializes in poke bowls — rice bowls with raw fish.

Most days, however, Shen said she enjoys researching marine science and learning alongside her students.

“I don’t try and pretend like I’m an expert on fisheries, and I think that allows for everyone in the room to be more comfortable with sharing their thoughts and opinions, which is what I prefer anyways,” Shen said.

For students taking COLL classes, the one-credit-hour offerings present a break from the routine of traditional classes.

In Knits and Pieces, Jones College junior Gabrielle Lencioni introduces students to knitting through tutorials and weekly practices. The goal is to take students who’ve potentially never even touched a ball of yarn and give them the skills to complete projects.

Brianna Hernandez, a junior at Baker College taking the class, found it to be more accessible and relaxing than classes she’s taken before.

“Most Rice classes for engineering majors are larger, especially in the beginning, so it’s been nice to finally have a small class size,” she said.

“Because it’s student-taught, it has been a more collaborative and fun environment than that of my other classes, but still highly educational,” added Matthew Anaya, a McMurtry junior also in Knits and Pieces.

After finding herself on the other side of the classroom, Lencioni has a new appreciation for the challenges of building a curriculum. Prospective student professors must first take Pedagogy for Student Instructors before writing a proposal that must be approved by their college magister and the Office of the Dean of Undergraduates.

“I first had to think about the different learning styles each student has and then build Powerpoints that would help these different styles,” Lencioni said.

Nishant Verma, a junior at Brown, teaches a class called Hands-on Electronics. Inspired by the electronics knowledge he’s gained from a lifetime of taking things apart and putting them back together, he designed an electronics class that involves hands-on learning disassembling everything from coffee makers to fax machines.

Like Lencioni, Verma has a better understanding of his teachers’ position now that he’s stood in their shoes.

“[Now I have] lots more empathy, understanding and respect for their persistence and tolerance,” Verma said. “I have grown an appreciation for a clean whiteboard at the start of class. At the same time, in my unique student-teacher position, I see many more areas where teachers, including myself, can work towards student learning and inspiration.”

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