On Teaching Fashion: Auditing Courses

The fall semester has begun and I have a request from a student to audit one of my apparel design courses. This means that I don’t have to track attendance or grade any projects from this student. But since they are in my classroom, I still feel obligated to help them and answer questions since most of our design classes involve project based work.

Woman in the Field photographed by Stella Haus Films

Woman in the Field photographed by Stella Haus

My past experience with students wanting to audit my courses have been mixed. I once had a student who wanted to learn fashion draping, was not an apparel design degree-seeking student, so this student asked to audit the course. This student was punctual, never missed a class, took notes, and even helped the other students if they had a question. She was an asset to my classroom and I enjoyed having her. However, this is not my usual experience with the auditing process. I often have a student that wants to audit my beginning sewing course. Those students will begin the course and then disappear after a couple weeks and I will never see them again. Sometimes they will return towards the end of the semester and ask for help to catch-up with the other students. I can’t seem to predict if an audit will be a positive or negative experience. The pressure a student will feel based on a financial investment or achieving grades that will have an effect on your future drives them to attend classes and turn projects in on time. Students that are auditing don’t have the same pressure.

Non-students have also asked to sit in on my courses. I usually direct them to officially enroll in our university and then audit the class. In my project-based classroom, I don’t want to reduce my time spent with our paying, degree-seeking students to help someone who is not paying. However, I did read about the increase of senior citizens attending college courses and would open my classroom to them. There are programs in some universities, including mine, that encourage senior citizens, aged 65 and up, to audit courses. In some universities, they are still required to be officially enrolled but are exempted from paying tuition up to a certain number of credit hours. In other universities, they can just contact the school and choose which course they want to attend and sit in on a class. A recent article about seniors auditing courses included the following figures: “About 300 seniors take at least one course each semester and that number has grown by about 25 students each term in recent years.” The NY Times also had a great article about seniors auditing courses and how they are given opportunities to socialize, engage their mind and to share their personal experience. In the article, a senior named Judith Sherman, who took a religion class at a notable university and was able to contribute in a big way. The article states: “This non-Jewish professor was really struggling to connect these privileged students to the Holocaust — and I was sitting there silently,” she recalled. She soon revealed her wartime nightmare to her professor, who invited her to lecture the class. She said her star turn at the lectern “was kind of a freeing experience.” She adds :“I felt as if I was no longer the only guardian of all these memories.” A senior person can have a big impact in the classroom by sharing their years of experience. Inviting seniors to audit courses in the apparel design field would be a joy for me. Not only will they have historical garment and fabric knowledge, they may have sewing experience as well.

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