Take Control of Your Learning, Enroll in a Student Directed Seminar

At UBC, there’s a lot of talk about students taking control of their learning. Whether it be the academic choices we make about when to study, or the Flipped Classroom that has become the breakthrough teaching style of the past few years, or even the vast opportunities available to students through GoGlobal and Co-Op, there are a lot of ways you can learn independently from a traditional classroom.

Student Directed Seminars are another, often overlooked way, that you as a student can really take control of your learning. I enrolled in a Student Directed Seminar (SDS) last year, and it was by far one of my most compelling university courses!

What is it?

An SDS is a small group course, usually fewer than 18 students, that is led by students. Easy as that! Well, kind of. There is a faculty member who sponsors the group, and can, depending on the course, sit in on occasional classes, do some marking, and be there for support. More importantly, there will be one or two Student Coordinators that have submitted the proposal for the course topic and shaped the trajectory of the classwork, but are there to learn alongside you! By and large, all other SDS coursework and class time is developed and completed by the students in the course. SDS courses can count as electives or fulfil requirements for your degree. Past courses have included the topics Neuropsychological Disorders in Children, The Politics of Indigenous-Settler Reconciliation in Canada, The Development of Self-Consciousness, and much more. With proposals so diverse, there are lots of options no matter what you’re studying!

Okay, you got me. How do I enroll in an SDS?

You can find out more information about the SDS program, including how to register, what courses are being offered in upcoming semesters, and even how you can develop your own course as a coordinator at the SDS website: http://students.ubc.ca/success/student-directed-seminars

Once the SDS course listings for the semester are out, enrolling in an SDS is easy! You can register just as you would a regular course, through the UBC Course Schedule online: https://courses.students.ubc.ca/cs/main?pname=welcome&tname=welcome

Plus, you can see a list of past courses here: http://students.ubc.ca/success/student-directed-seminars/courses

What’s in it for me?

The SDS I took was an interdisciplinary Arts course on Japanese-Canadian artist and poet Roy Kiyooka. We studied his poetry and art, as you might in a traditional English or Art History course. But — and this is where the format of the SDS really shines through — our learning wasn’t just constrained to weekly readings. Each student did a presentation on an aspect they were interested in, so we got to see the interests of our fellow students and learn from their independent inquiry; then, later in the term, we did peer marking of their final projects which allowed us to see the final product of their research. No stressful class discussions here! As someone who often freezes up in class discussions, being in a small group of students without a prof meant that discussions were a time to explore.

We also embarked field trips to the Belkin Art Gallery‘s archives of Kiyooka’s work and to Rare Books & Special Collections to sift through drafts and other ephemera from his writing process. The Student Coordinators and the Faculty Sponsor coordinated guest speakers, friends of the poet himself. Together, our class curated an exhibit that was displayed in Special Collections and also at the Nikkei Cultural Centre in Burnaby, for both the on- and off-campus community to see.

As you can probably tell, the format of the SDS lets you do a lot of things that you might not usually do in a traditional classroom. Our discussions, presentations, and projects were all so much more meaningful and personal because they were driven by our own interests, shaped by our hands-on approach to learning. Working with other students on some intense collaborative learning like this is a pretty rare opportunity — think of all the group projects you might have endured on topics that you are at best indifferent about and, at worst, totally forgot about after the course was over!

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