By Melissa Fraser, Staff Writer
Academic programs are not generally designed to respond to breaking news but in the last few years USM has found a way to allow students to learn in real time about current events through pop-up courses.
Unlike typical fifteen week courses, students won’t find these classes advertised in a course catalog. Pop-up courses emerge in a response to current events they are marketed to students through email and social media. Springing up one time only, the courses are offered on a pass/fail basis for either one or one-half credit. Student are required to enroll through MaineStreet and are limited to a maximum total of three credits in the form of pop-up courses.
To create a pop-up course, faculty members are required to complete an application that explains the learning objectives and goals of the course. That application is then reviewed and approved by the committee of faculty and deans within the college. This official policy ensures that learning objectives and the activities of the course merit the credit earned, as explained by Julien Murphy, Associate Dean of USM’s College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CAHS) and Professor of Philosophy.
Social justice pop-up courses came to be at USM on a three-year educational grant awarded from the National Education Association (NEA) to the USM chapter of the Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine (AFUM), a faculty union across the University of Maine System (UMS).
Susan Feiner, former President of the USM chapter of AFUM, and Julie Ziffer, Vice President, were awarded the NEA grant to organize and offer a series of social justice courses, including short pop-up courses. All pop-up courses within the social justice minor are fully funded by the grant, meaning that students can enroll for free. Course offerings include subject matters such as sociology, economics and women and gender studies.
Feiner retired from USM in July but remained involved with the USM community through her work with the Frances Perkins Initiative of Social Justice Education. Most recently, she created a pop-up course that offered one course credit to students who wanted to travel by bus to Washington D.C. during the heavily protested confirmation of now Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the US, Brett Kavanaugh.
After the pop-up course was publicized via social media it was withdrawn by USM President Glenn Cummings, who said that the course was not authorized through the proper channels. In an article Feiner wrote for the Press Herald, she admitted that the application process was incomplete when the course was initially advertised to students. Frenier has since been barred from teaching at the university.
Due to this, pop-up courses provided by the Frances Perkins Initiative for Social Justice Education are currently suspended and all public information is temporarily unavailable while the project is under review, as stated on the website.
The participation requirements for pop-up courses under the social justice minor can vary and typically involve attending a specific social justice event. One of the courses offered this past September was titled Uncovering Black History in Maine, co-taught by Dr. Nathan Hamilton and Dr. Eve Raimon. According to the USM website, the course requirements were to attend two events, three class meetings, and one full day in Portland. The students engaged with black history in Maine through exposure to the landscape, ecofacts and artifacts of Malaga Island and the Black Freedom Trail.
Pop-up courses are not exclusive to the social justice program. USM’s College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences has been offering pop-up courses since the fall semester of 2017. Their objective is to offer credit-bearing student engagement projects on specific topics of student interests.
Murphy co-taught a pop-up course during the fall of 2017 on International Peace Day. The course brought students together in an instructed yet informal way to meet and discuss peace consciousness on campus and in the world.
Murphy finds this particular style of learning to be beneficial for both students and faculty. “It’s a way of bending or making flexible the boundaries of the course experience. It allows a concentrated, innovative, engaged academic experience,” she said.
According to Murphy, the key to continued growth of pop-ups at USM is student involvement. One of the unique aspects of these courses is that they can be proposed by students. If a student finds a particular topic to be of interest they can approach a faculty member and propose the idea of a pop-up course. These courses are interdisciplinary, open to everyone and give students the opportunity to learn about topics that may be outside of their major.