Students participate in the "Thriving in Digital World" pop-up course at Saint Michael's College.
Last fall, Saint Michael’s College administrators decided it was time to update the school’s curriculum in order to address issues that “pop-up” in our world today and create a space for educated discussion between students and their instructors about these issues.
The solution was to offer “pop-up courses” - classes that would be offered periodically for 0-1 credits by faculty in order to “create an opportunity for a short-term learning experience in response to a current, unfolding event or an identified need or interest that isn’t being accommodated in the traditional curriculum.”
Those are the words of Karen Talentino, the College’s vice president of academic affairs, who explained her thinking in having Saint Michael’s join just a handful of colleges nationwide to offer such courses: “Higher education hasn’t been too creative or responsive to students’ needs and interests, and we need to be,” she said, adding that these new pop-up courses are attempting to be more relevant and innovative by allowing students to propose ideas for courses, which, in turn, encourages focused discussions between students and their instructors.
Other top institutions taking this new approach to teaching include Bennington College in Vermont, and Stanford University and Claremont College in California, she said.
Currently, Saint Michael’s College is offering two pop-up courses: one that discusses issues of diversity, inclusion, and leadership on college campuses, and one that is designed to teach students how to properly use technology and be safe online, titled “Thriving in a Digital World.” They are taught, respectively, by members of the school’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion and the IT Department.
Erik Lightbody is one of three IT staff members teaching the “Thriving in a Digital World” course. He says having multiple trained professionals instructing the course allows them to present information from three different perspectives, which gives their students a more thorough overview of the subject matter. He also feels that training students in relevant subjects as they come to light is beneficial to overall campus learning. “We now have twenty-five well educated advocates who can teach their fellow classmates on campus,” Lightbody said.
William Langdon, a first-year student at Saint Michael’s College, is one of about 60 students currently participating in the pop-up courses program. He said he chose to take the “Thriving in a Digital World” course because it peaked his interest, it fit his schedule and was flexible; also, the course load included real, practical examples that taught him how to better use technology. He said the course included a lot of collaboration and working with instructors, in and outside the classroom.
The thing he possibly likes most about pop-up courses is that the classes are only 0-1 credits and are pass/fail, so he feels no pressure to “make a grade”, which makes the class as a whole less stressful. “I feel like the nature of pop-up courses allows students to take classes purely for interest rather than being forced to try and get a good grade,” said Langdon, adding that he is able to get a lot more out of a class that is structured this way for some topics than from the traditional curriculum.