18 November 2019

Students as teachers

“We really owned the course”

The Student-Led Honours Seminar allows University College Utrecht students to design and teach their own course as a team. Two students share their experiences from the course that they ran in Spring 2019 together with six more second- and third-year students.

university college utrecht
Course presentation, TJ and Gideon on the front. Still image from student video registration.

The Seminar, one of the Curriculum Enrichment Options at University College Utrecht, places students in the centre of their own learning. Humanities major TJ Querio, now in her third and final year, looks back at the process: 

“I am passionate about the course we did because it really helped us own the academics. We were figuring the course out together, instead of being told what to do. Initially, it took us more than a month to make the course syllabus. We decided that the course would be about dichotomies, and then started to look at the ideas each of us had. The readings were based on our earlier course readings. We were mainly Humanities and Social Sciences students, and we divided the topics based on our interests.”

For TJ’s classmate Gideon Frey, now also in his third year, the student-led course came as a surprise.

“In fact I jumped in heels-on, and it was an amazing experience. It was really our course, and that gave us a sense of ownership. It became a very interdisciplinary course, as people came from very different corners of academia. Art history, queer studies, classical philosophy… Discussions clashed in an interesting way. But everyone was very respectful of each other and what they had to say.”

Teacher as part of the team

One of the main pillars of the student-lead seminar is that the supervisor takes the role of a coach, who only steers the course where needed. The Spring seminar was led by Gerard van der Ree, lecturer in International Relations. Gideon:

“The supervisor was part of the team, and so he followed our rules. We used hand signals during the classes, and he used them as well. That is how we really worked for ourselves, not so much for the teacher. It was about understanding, not about grades only. But it is good to have a supervisor, as he has experience and expertise we don’t yet as students, while this setup really changed the usual academic hierarchy.”

TJ fills in: “Gerard wanted us to find out by ourselves what we would do. He contributed with his perspective and experience, but when he joined the course, he did it just as one of the participants. That led to interesting discussions on the breaks about the roles and social dynamics as well.”

The course closed with a symposium, where the students presented the outcomes of the discussions. But that was not the end.


“The course fully overhauled my expectations of the academics”, says TJ. “We learned not to be afraid of what we did not know yet. We became very close during the course and learned to speak up, even if we felt unsure. That made for a very fruitful learning environment, not just facts and information. The human connections found in these courses are not to be underestimated. I made trusted friends with whom I still am in contact.”

For Gideon the course was nothing short of a revelation. Economics and Psychology major until last Spring, he decided to switch to Philosophy, and the student-led course had a lot to do with it.

“At the start, I didn’t think I wanted to have anything to do with Humanities, but this course made me change my mind. In fact, we accomplished a lot in a short time, and I now keep on returning to the syllabus we made. The topics feel as relevant as ever.”

As TJ and Gideon were not willing to let the experience fade away, both signed up for a second  Student-Led Honours Course for next Spring semester. Not because it would be required – the Enrichment Options are exactly what the term says: an addition to the regular curriculum – but out of their own interest.

“This year we are looking at the public and the private as a prism to approach time, play, embodiment and language”, explains TJ enthusiastically. “We focus mainly on the social sphere where for example time is often taken for granted. This time, we have more Science students in the group, which gives the course a different flavour.”