The beauty of the pop-up is that anything goes. Some are for credit; others are strictly for fun — or, at least, personal enlightenment.
The class was supposed to be temporary, a quick dive into the link between literature and anthropology. The professors had no idea if students would even come. It wasn’t mandatory, they wouldn’t get credit and it was taking place at night. Friday night.
So no one was more surprised than Kara Wittman and Joanne Nucho when 24 people showed up for their “Essay as Resistance” class, which had its debut at Pomona College in March 2017 and ran for three 90-minute sessions.
“We were shocked that it was so popular,” says Wittman, an assistant professor of English at Pomona, in Claremont, California, who taught the class with Nucho, an assistant professor of anthropology there.
But that’s exactly the appeal of the so-called pop-up class, an experiential, interdisciplinary, extracurricular workshop that appears briefly and usually vanishes.
Pop-up classes have grown in popularity over the past few years, with a number of colleges and universities offering them. They’re often related to current events. Bennington College’s “Am I Charlie?,” held in 2015, was a response to the attacks on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in France. “White Privilege” was offered this past school year at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont, when Black Lives Matter gained traction on campus.
“It was a time when our community on campus and nationally was divided around issues of race, and we wanted to give our students the opportunity to discuss some of these challenging topics,” says Kimoi Seale, assistant dean of students, who taught the “White Privilege” class.
Pop-ups have appeared in various incarnations for a while, but are often traced to Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, commonly called the D.school, for seasoned instructors to try out new course content.
More recently, the D.school’s University Innovation Fellows program began to use pop-ups as tools for students to be more engaged in their own learning environments. The D.school’s pop-ups have since become “Pop Outs,” which have a narrower focus.
Timothy Moore, 25, was a University Innovation fellow in 2015. After being introduced to the idea of pop-ups, he brought the concept back to James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, from which he graduated that year. The university’s X-Lab has since held pop-ups in everything from building ukuleles to ice-cream making using liquid nitrogen.
“A lot of teachers don’t realize that the pop-up will make their curriculum stronger,” says Moore, who now works at Claremont College’s Hive, a program at the school that brings students together across disciplines to practice human-centered approached to real-world problems. “They’re a low-risk way to try out a class.”
The beauty of the pop-up is that anything goes. Some classes last a few weeks; others run for a day or weekend. Some are faculty led; others are taught by students, administrators or even local businesspeople. Some are for credit; others are strictly for fun — or, at least, personal enlightenment. And sometimes the classes are so popular that they return as full-fledged, for-credit courses, which is what happened with the “Essay as Resistance” class.
Here is a look at some pop-ups at schools around country and here in Seattle.
One Day University with The Seattle Times
At One Day University, sponsored by The Seattle Times, professors from some of the top universities in the country present special versions of their best lectures at the University of Washington’s Kane Hall. On tap for Oct. 6: “Living and Dying in America: The Future of Health Care,” by Michael Sparer, of Columbia University; “What Makes Mozart Great?” by Craig Wright, of Yale University; “The Shifting Lens of History: How We Reimagine the Past,” by Stephanie Yuhl, of College of the Holy Cross; and “The Human Brain: What We Know (and What We Don’t),” by Heather Berlin, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Another session is planned for Nov. 10.
‘Building Los Angeles,’ Pomona College
When fires ravaged Southern California last summer and major flooding followed soon after, Char Miller took notice. Miller, director of environmental analysis at Pomona College, has been teaching about fire for over two decades.
“But the particular dynamic between fires and flood, which was so horrifying this winter — we have this incredible opportunity to show students on the ground what that actually means,” he says. “It’s a way for students to understand that they live in a particular place and that the natural systems here function differently than from wherever they come.”
The pop-up will be taught this fall by Miller and Jeff Groves, an English professor at Harvey Mudd College.
‘Design for Justice: Eviction,’ Stanford
Last year, Margaret Hagan, director of the Legal Design Lab at Stanford and a lecturer at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, taught “Design for Justice: Traffic,” which focused on navigating the traffic court system.
Earlier this year she focused on eviction.
“Most of the people who get evicted don’t take any steps to fight their notices in court. That means there’s more eviction notices because it’s easier for landlords to use the court system without opposition,” she says. “If we can inform people of their rights in responding to an eviction notice, we might get more protection to them. To use the process. So the class is a lab — where my students, legal aid and the court — help them think through what interventions they can send out to encourage people to take action.”
‘Self-Determination: Restoration and Resiliency,’ St. Michael’s College
Antonia Messuri, the assistant dean for academics at St. Michael’s in Colchester, Vermont, regularly counsels students who are stuck in their lives.
“Often our students are coming from a place of being told what to do, how to do it and when it’s due their whole lives,” she says. This class, which ran through April, “is an opportunity for them to say, ‘This is my life, my education.’”
Students read articles on self-determination and Buddhist writings, with a focus on meditation, resilience and grit.
‘Drones and Rockets,’ James Madison University
The bulk of the pop-ups at James Madison are designed to be a mix of science and technology. In this class last spring, students learned the basic rules for safe flying, practice flight controls and then test their skills by flying through something they can relate to: a Quidditch course.
“It’s designed to expose them to lightweight drones and the opportunity to take the full drone class where they learn how to use drones to solve real-world problems,” says Nick Swayne, founding director of the university’s X-Lab. “We will also have small model rockets available for students to try. These rockets are used extensively by our geology department to increase student interest in atmospheric studies.”
‘After Parkland: Gun Culture, Gun Violence and the Shifting Politics of Gun Control,’ Bennington College
Since the spring of 2015, Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont, has been offering pop-up courses. In this course, taught by state Sen. Brian Campion, who is also the director of public policy programs in the Center for the Advancement of Public Action, students explored gun culture, gun policy, the continuing work of policymakers at the state’s Capitol, and whether or not such actions were likely to be the most effective to keep citizens safe.
The course brought in guests with different perspectives.