is once again taking center stage at the Northwest Auditorium in Sunset Village.
In addition to the first cluster course ever offered, “The Global Environment,”
there are three new offerings that delve into wide-ranging issues of the
evolution of the cosmos and life, the great books of the last four centuries
and the dynamics of race throughout U.S. history.
Instead of approaching such broad topics from a single perspective, the cluster
concept pools the teaching talents and viewpoints of some of UCLA’s most
renowned scholars and skilled teachers from different fields who guide students
across traditional academic boundaries to think and write critically for
“Some of the most important ideas of science don’t fit neatly into departments.
Evolution is the most dramatic example of this,” said Matthew Malkan, professor
of physics and astronomy, who teaches a cluster course with paleobiologist
J. William Schopf, geochemists Mark Harrison and Jon Davidson and four graduate
“You can get a piece of it from an astronomy course, and a piece from earth
and space science. But if you want to see the whole picture, you can’t get
it from just one field,” Malkan said.
“Evolution is the theme, but we want students to be able to evaluate evidence
in a scientific way, and to read articles critically,” Davidson said. “We
want them to understand the scientific method and apply it in everyday life.
We want them to not be afraid of science, as many adults are.”
Teaching a cluster also poses tough challenges for faculty members, many
of whom have taught solo for years. The courses are set up not as a series
of guest lectures, but a coordinated curriculum into which everyone has input.
the last 10 years, I’ve had to basically figure out what to teach for myself,”
Malkan said. “Now other people are looking over my shoulder. This is the
first time I’ve really had to hash out what’s going into a course with other
teachers I respect, lecture by lecture, page by page. They may have better
ideas than I do on some subjects. I may know more about others. It’s pretty
interesting to hear about other ways to present a topic.”
It’s an experiment that faculty members find exhilarating. “It’s the first
class I’ve ever taught in which I’m interacting with other teachers. I’m
having a blast,” Malkan said.
“Students benefit from eight brains instead of one, and are not limited to
a single point of view,” said King-kok Cheung, associate professor of English
and Asian-American studies, who coteaches a cluster that examines race in
the U.S. through the study of history, literature and the law.
In four years, the college plans to offer as many as 10 clusters for some
1,500 students about half the freshman class in the College of Letters and
Science, said Judith Smith, vice provost of undergraduate education.