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How to establish a series of pop-up classes that focus on bringing hands-on learning experience to students, staff, faculty and community members

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What is a pop up class?

Pop-up classes are short workshops which provide students with the opportunity to engage in hands-on activities not found in the typical curriculum. These classes are not offered for college credit but allow students to learn new material while encouraging design thinking. Pop-up classes are offered for a variety of different topics, formats, and skills. In pop-up classes, collaboration is urged and, in stark contrast to conventional education, innovation is more important than instructions.

Why are they useful?

Some advantages of pop-up classes are:

  • flexible hours
  • easy to jump into
  • not a big commitment  (even busy people can do it)
  • quick way to learn or practice something
  • can be tailored to accommodate wide ranges of people or specific groups
  • relaxed atmosphere
  • easy to set up
  • easy to run
  • can be cheap (to organize/run)

How do I pick a topic?

Your topic should cater to your audience, allowing them to branch out of their usual studies.  For example, you might teach a group of business students about basic graphic design principles.  

Pick a topic that facilitates the learning you want to take place.  For example, if your goal is to give students exposure to basic scientific principles, then a great pop-up class would allow students hands-on interactions with buoyant objects.  Let them make tin foil boats and see who can best demonstrate their understanding of buoyancy by awarding a small prize to the boat which holds the most nickels.  This accomplishes your goal of teaching a topic, allowing students to explore it, and giving them hands on experience while keeping them interested.  Students coming away from your pop-up class with a positive mindset of what they have been exposed to will encourage them to investigate more on their own.

Additionally, keeping your audience in mind, the difficulty of material and assignments should be within the grasp of the group.  Don’t attempt to teach 5th graders multivariable calculus and don’t attempt to teach engineering grad students about buoyancy with tin foil boats.  They may have fun, but the goal is for people to learn something new.

How do you go about running a class?

Running through the plan in advance  is important. The first time you do the workshop should not be the actual event. Practice before hand.

Key to any workshop is facilitation. While it is the presenter’s job to both inform and entertain, attendees come to experience a hands on approach to learning. Otherwise you are only giving a lecture, not a workshop. However, depending on the group, getting everyone involved is the most challenging but essential to the success of a workshop. Nerves, strangers, fear of failure are some of the many reasons that individuals may not participate right away. Good practice is to start with an icebreaker to introduce attendees to each other.

When giving directions for the activities or tasks it is best to be quick but concise. Confusing or lengthy dialog about the activity can result in attendees losing interest and becoming introverted. You want to try and hit the sweet spot between sufficient complexity to keep your attendees engaged but simple enough that the task can be completed in the allotted time. While an activity is being done, the goal should be to act as an observer that makes occasional comments or nudges in the right direction rather than guidance.

At the end of activities strive to present what each group completed and expand on those thoughts with constructive feedback.  A common occurrence is having more questions than you can answer in the end. The host should stay after and try to answer some of these questions individually with attendees.

How can I find available resources?

There are many different places to look for resources for use in the class. For example:

  • Many cheap craft supplies, like popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, and glue can be obtained from local craft stores
  • Recycled paper, bottles, cans, and other common items can be repurposed
  • Local libraries, college buildings and groups, and makerspaces may have resources on-hand for public use

In addition, there may be other people on campus or in the community who already do workshops and pickup classes, so you could offer to teach one of those. Look for community colleges, public libraries, college clubs, and other organizations, and offer to pitch in!