Op-Ed: The importance of peer teaching at Tufts

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On Aug. 28, 2013, I walked into Eaton 206 as a wide-eyed first-year full of hopeful expectations and barely concealed terror. My mom had moved me into Tilton earlier that afternoon, and I was now meeting with my advising group for the first time. Everyone in my group was also in a Perspectives class, a peer-taught course for first-years sponsored by the Experimental College.

The Perspectives class, called “Superheroes in the Media,” was my introduction to life at Tufts. The co-leaders of the course were enthusiastic juniors, always willing to help their first-years in academic and personal matters. Throughout the semester, this course and my amazing teachers taught me how to write in an academic setting. I learned how to formulate my thoughts in class discussion, how to speak in front of a room full of my peers and even how to make friends. Taking a peer-taught course defined my first-year experience by providing a safe space where I could grow both academically and socially.

On Aug. 31 this year, my co-leader and I welcomed our advising group to Tufts. We were both students in “Superheroes in the Media” our first year, and now we’re teaching our own Perspectives course together for the Class of 2020. Working with first-years is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had at Tufts; I get to watch them grow and adjust on a weekly basis. I get to teach a course on a topic I’m passionate about — feminism in science fiction media — with a longtime friend.

Tufts is unique because it values the importance of the individual’s learning process, ostensibly allowing each student to explore education at their own pace and in their own way. I’m now in my final year at this university, and I feel a little dismayed by what I see as a betrayal of these fundamental ideals. Tufts’ increased focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) is not necessarily a bad thing. However, it does follow a worrying trend begun by other private universities, in which teaching marketable skills may come at the expense of creativity.

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I believe that one of the most overlooked departments at Tufts is one of its most unique: the Experimental College. The ExCollege has occasionally been disregarded by the administration and by students, but it continues to sponsor some of the most intriguing classes, lectures and events on campus. Many of the ideas that originated with the ExCollege eventually became their own entities, such as the Institute for Global Leadership and the Film and Media Studies program. It offers opportunities for students to learn in unique ways — and to teach.

Students can become peer teachers through the Perspectives or Explorations programs, which are geared toward first-years, or through peer teaching for students of any grade throughout the year. Peer teaching allows for creativity in designing syllabi and lesson plans, in exploring fields and pushing against limitations — not to mention its power as a resume builder. Peer-taught courses offered in the spring semester can be on any topic.

When I walked into Eaton 206 as a first-year in 2013, I wasn’t aware of all the ways that I could explore and build my own education at Tufts. It feels as if every year, incoming students have fewer opportunities to think and perform creatively. As the school becomes more heavily focused on conforming to a certain model of education, something is lost.

So students who want to take or teach a course that will count toward an elective credit should know about the opportunities available. They should know about the capacity to make an impact on fellow students by learning and growing with them, by teaching a non-traditional course which will give their peers new insights into education. Peer-taught courses prove that Tufts can still be a place for first-years — and students of all grades — to truly explore. I know that my university experience has been transformed by peer teaching; I just hope that other students get to take advantage of the same wonderful opportunities that I was offered.

Students interested in peer teaching should apply to do so by Oct. 28. More information can be found at excollege.tufts.edu.


Editor’s note: If you would like to send your response or make an op-ed contribution to the Opinion section, please email us at [email protected] The Opinion section looks forward to hearing from you.

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