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Design, cryptocurrency, and crochet: Student instructors talk college courses

Illustrated by Katherine Chui

By Shiyu Miao     9/7/21 10:15pm

Rice students have the chance to teach other students in college courses. The Thresher talked to four current student instructors to learn more about their courses and their experiences. Students can still add COLL courses — exploring topics like deep listening, cooperative storytelling, and Cleopatra — to their schedule before the add deadline on Friday, Sept. 10.

COLL 113: Not Your Grandma’s Crochet

When Wiess College senior Leenah Abojaib stepped into COLL 300: Pedagogy For Student Instructors last fall, she was excited to find another student who wanted to teach a college course on crocheting. Since then, Abojaib and Will Rice College senior Avery Bullock have made their vision a reality: they are co-teaching COLL 113: Not Your Grandma’s Crochet.

“We were all sharing what classes [we] were interested in teaching … Both of us were interested in crocheting, and we were like, ‘Perfect!’” Abojaib said. “[I thought,] ‘I don't want to teach this on my own and have another person teach this on their own. It's better if we collaborate’ … I didn't know Avery before the class. So I think it's really cool that our friendship is built on crocheting.”

Not Your Grandma’s Crochet focuses on both crocheting skills and the cultural position of crocheting, according to the course description. Students start with the fundamentals of stitches and create their own crochet project in the end. Bullock said that they also plan to invite guest speakers and possibly arrange an optional field trip to a yarn store. 

According to Abojaib, she wants students to become comfortable with crocheting stitches, incorporate crochet in their lives as a stress-relieving hobby and understand its prevalence and value in society. Bullock said she hopes that the course can counter the existing notions that crocheting is only for grandmas or old ladies. 

“We called the class “Not Your Grandma’s Crochet” because there [are] a lot of stereotypes around crocheting,” Bullock said. “A large part of our class is just showing the place that crocheting has in modern society. … Cool people can crochet … There [are] lots of really cool, modern, trendy things that you can do with crocheting.”

Bullock said she is blown away by the popularity of their course, which has 17 students on the waitlist as of publishing. Abojaib said she and Bullock have thought about teaching two sections of the course next semester, and if they do so, students who didn’t get a seat this semester would be able to take it then.

“I'm very honored that there are a lot of people on our waitlist,” Abojaib said. “Unfortunately, we can't special register people into our classes because they're capped at 19 people, which is so sad, and I totally would have loved to teach more.”

COLL 102: Intro to Crypto — A Future of Blockchain and Cryptocurrency

Another popular student-taught course is Charlie Lockyer’s COLL 102: Intro to Crypto — A Future of Blockchain and Cryptocurrency. Lockyer, a Baker College sophomore, said that his class is meant to teach people how society and the future of finance are affected by cryptocurrency. Students do not need any technical background to enroll in this course, according to Lockyer.

“I'm teaching this class more as a high-level description [of] the impacts of cryptocurrency on society, how it works from the perspective of someone who isn't a [computer science] major, and then how it's going to affect their daily lives in the future,” Lockyer said. “A lot of my students are not CS majors, and I'm not teaching them anything technical.”

Lockyer said he hopes that his students understand the values of cryptocurrency and how blockchain is used as a technology for it. He said he also plans to teach investing in cryptocurrency as a practical skill.

“I'm gonna explain to them how to buy a cryptocurrency for themselves and how to invest in it if they want to,” Lockyer said. “That's an educational thing only. I'm not like telling them ‘Oh, this one's going to make you money so you should buy it’ … I'm just educating people [about] how to set their account if they're interested in getting into this.”

Lockyer said that during the first meeting, he realized that his students had varying knowledge of the course topics. According to Lockyer, who starts teaching in person this week, class discussions such as “What is Bitcoin?” help him structure future lectures so that all his students can understand the lessons. He said that he is very open to student feedback.

“I am very open with the students and telling them all, ‘I want feedback immediately,’” Lockyer said. “All of that is super important because I'm a student, too. A lot of the students in my course are seniors and I'm just a sophomore. So some people might know more than me. I've had a few students already come to me saying, ‘Why don't we have a group to talk about this?’”

COLL 136: Fundamentals of Digital Design

According to Elena Margolin, a McMurtry College senior, there was a lot of interest in her course COLL 136: Fundamentals of Digital Design last spring, so she decided to teach it again this semester. 

“When I first started teaching it, I got a lot of people emailing me saying, ‘When can I get off the waitlist?’” Margolin said. “It makes me really glad knowing that there's a ton of people at Rice who care about design. Because of that, I really wanted to teach it again and focus more on visual design fundamentals, applying [them] to UI so that people could get those fundamental skills.”

Margolin said students will use the fundamentals of visual design, which include color typography, layout, Gestalt theory and composition, in their final project, the creation of an app. According to Margolin, the preparation for teaching was a challenge in itself.

“It took a lot of thinking, putting myself in their shoes — people who had never touched design before,” Margolin said. “How can I get from zero to all the way to a final project?”

Having taught COLL 136 entirely online last semester, Margolin said that she really wants to teach it in person, as this format is conducive to collaboration and discussion.

“One thing I really want to focus on is design critiques and making sure that everyone is getting feedback — good and bad constructive feedback — on their design so that we can actually improve,” Margolin said. “That's one thing that I didn't get to do last semester, but I think in-person [class] will really help design critiques.”

Margolin said that she wants to teach Rice students what design is for and that she wants them to develop an appreciation for it.

“[I want students to notice] design in their daily life, whether it's on a screen, like digital design, or just in print anywhere … and then also [be] able to apply it to their life,” Margolin said. “So when they're making a slide deck for a class or for a research paper, [they feel] more comfortable using their knowledge [of] color and layout and typography to build something that they know looks good and communicates the message well.”

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