Learning from Each Other – Democratic Education at Cal Experience

During one of my first weeks at Berkeley, as I walked through Sproul Plaza, I was stopped by someone holding up a poster board with bolded letters “BTS” written on it. I knew BTS is a popular k-pop band, but I was not interested in joining some sort of fan club. The girl, however, stopped me to explain that she is a facilitator for a BTS decal course at Berkeley. She introduced me to democratic education at Cal, known as decals, which are student-run classes that can grant students with university approved academic credits. For the BTS specifically, the course would explore factors in the media that contributed to the success of the international k-pop group. It turns out, Cal students put together over 100 different courses every semester across diverse topics. Ever since I started my Berkeley journey, I have been taking a decal class every semester.

After my encounter with the girl, I looked up the list of decal courses at decal.berkeley.edu/courses, and there were so many diverse topics from video game development to cancer 101 to investment to knitting and baking. I chose to start with Introductory Cantonese.  The class met twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, in the evenings to avoid scheduling conflicts with other day classes. The facilitators was a junior student from Hong Kong. Because of her background, our facilitator was able to weave her personal experience with the textbook material to give us a more through understanding on the language and culture. Furthermore, the Cantonese decal provided me with an opportunity to meet upperclassmen from different majors. At the end of the semester, my class made a field trip to a dim-sum restaurant, and we got to practice our Cantonese skills when we ordered!

For the second semester, I took a graphic design decal. Despite my total lack of experience with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, I was able to enroll in the decal and learn designing skills for the first time in my life. Other than the facilitator, we had two additional teaching assistants present in class. Everyone in the class were given individual attention; we had detailed feedbacks for every project during the semester from experienced designers. My favorite project is where we got to design our own logos. I had feedbacks from my peers and adjusted my design to include their suggestions which is very similar to the working process of real graphic designers. I enjoyed exploring my artistic creativities during that decal as well as learning useful basic design skills.

For the latest semester, I chose something that is more relevant to my major – criminal psychology. We learned about the use of psychological analysis in solving crimes such as profiling. I have always been a fan of crime dramas such like Criminal Minds; in the criminal psychology decal, I got to make connections between the phenomenons I have studied in my psychology classes and the crimes from those drama series. For me, it is always very exciting to see real world applications of the knowledge learned in lectures. For the final projects, our facilitators gave us a murder case and played the suspects. We got to ask them questions and figure out the criminal ourselves. It was the most fun final I have ever taken.

From my experience, decals have always been a great opportunity to explore unfamiliar new fields of study. Because it is facilitated by other student, decal offers a more interactive learning experience and teaches skills that can be useful in real life. More importantly, anyone can create a decal course and become a facilitator. So if you are an expert in field, you can share the passion for that topic with your peers. At Cal, you do not just learn from the professors. Learning can happen anywhere with anyone, and decal is one of the most fun ways to learn on campus!


Author: Jade Pan

Hi! My name is Jade Pan. I am a sophomore at UC Berkeley double majoring in psychology and economics, and working on a minor in data science. Aside from my classes, I am a part of the Cal women's ultimate frisbee club team. I got to explore many parts of California with my team during tournaments. I was involved in psychology research in my freshman year through ULAB where we conducted a study on the effect of gender on stress level differences. Cal has been a great place for academic and personal growth to me, and I am excited to share a part of my journey with you!