How to design an independent study or student-taught course

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Students sometimes wonder about the “Educ 399 Independent Study” listing in the schedule of classes. What does it mean, and how can I tell if it’s a good fit for me?

399. Independent Study— Submission of the special registration form, available in the Registrar’s Office, and the approval of the instructor and director are required for enrollment. (1-2 course credits) -Staff

An independent study means that you design your own syllabus of academic readings and writing assignments, and persuade a faculty member to agree to meet regularly with you and evaluate your work, typically for one credit. Since a one-credit independent study has higher expectations for academic work than a half-credit pass/fail internship, Trinity allows us to count an Educ 399 toward the Educational Studies major.

Finding a faculty sponsor for your independent study may not be easy, because Trinity College does not offer faculty any financial compensation or career incentives to do this. Furthermore, scheduling frequent meetings with an individual student on a solo topic is not an efficient use of my limited teaching time.

If you want to persuade me (or any faculty member) to supervise your independent study, then consider this advice:

  • Take charge of your learning and plan ahead. Independent studies do not work for passive students who wait until the last minute to meet deadlines.
  • Read examples on this web page (and elsewhere) and mine them for ideas about how to deepen your learning.
  • “Independent study” does not necessarily mean “one solo student.” Instead, the most successful Educ 399 projects have consisted of 2-5 students who shared the same interests and created their own mini-class.
  • Start drafting a syllabus (ideally, with other students) of your learning goals, readings, writing, and other types of assignments that you believe will deepen your learning. Compose this in a collaborative Google Document to share.
  • Schedule a meeting to show me your progress and persuade me to work with you. In my view, the most persuasive arguments will:
    • come from 2 or more students working in a small group (rather than solo efforts)
    • come from students who have already had a course with me, to build on prior learning
    • connect with academic topics that interest me, either because I have taught or researched or supervised related work in the past, or because it’s something that I personally wish to learn more about in the future

Examples of successful Educ 399 independent study projects:

Student-taught courses:

Another option, if you have a group of students with similar interests, is to consider writing a proposal for a credit-bearing student-taught course (see description in the Bulletin and more details in the Student Handbook). In addition to a faculty sponsor, this requires more advance planning with the Associate Academic Dean (in the Dean of Faculty’s office) and approval by the Curriculum Committee. But during my time at Trinity, a handful of Educational Studies majors have proposed and led successful student-taught courses on topics related to the major (such as Multicultural Education in a Global Age, with external guest speakers) and also other liberal arts fields of study.

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