Unclasses: Classes outside the box!

Unclasses are for-credit classes but they are a twist on the ordinary class. Interdisciplinary teams of students and faculty take on a challenge or a concern and build the class together making use of the specific strengths the team happens to possess.  Below are the three unclass options for Fall 2017.  Spring 2018 will bring a new set.  Do you have an idea for an unclass?  Come talk with us at EX[L].

Fall 2017 Unclasses

CLASS ONE: Applied Research on the Commuter Student Experience at UA

TTH 10:45 – 12:00

Who are our commuter students?  What barriers and pathways does UA present them with?  What needs to be improved and what would creative solutions look like?  This class will take on this set of questions in a team-based, problem-based format.  The goals include learning good research methods, honing specific skills, and working with a diverse group to develop ideas that will make UA culture stronger, more inclusive, and more responsive to commuter students.

Enroll using 3850:365:002 or contact EX[L] co-director, Carolyn Behrman behrman@uakron.edu for other options.


TTH 8:55 to 9:40 a.m. or TTH 10:05 to 10:55 a.m.

In this class, students will explore TEDx from the inside.  The TEDx format is a compelling educational tool but in this unclass, students from a range of majors will use team-based, problem-based approaches, to learn about and participate in the creation of TEDx-style events here at UA.  This will include discovering and interviewing speakers, and creating and bringing an event to the stage. Students will exercise and hone the skills they have and be challenged to learn new skills and step outside their comfort-zones including creating and giving their own “Pecha Kucha” presentation.

Enroll using 1870:360:019 or 1870:360:020, or contact EX[L] co-director, Carolyn Behrman behrman@uakron.edu for other options.

CLASS THREE: Common Hope (Guatemala): Global Citizenship Colloquium

M 7 to 9:10 p.m.

This unclass will take as its goal a greater understanding of the experience of our place in the global context. Through experiences with Akron’s Global Ties organization which hosts State Department-funded international business and entrepreneurial visitors and International Institute of Akron which helps resettle refugees, students will gain perspectives on the complex flow of people and ideas that Akron participates in. Part of the class focus will be on the country of Guatemala specifically with an optional Winter Break trip to the organization Common Hope in Guatemala.

Enroll using 1870:360:018 instructor, Juan Contreras, jec37@uakron.edu, or contact Carolyn Behrman behrman@uakron.edu.

Experimenting with Un-Classes: Campus Interdisciplinary Problem Solving Teams through UA’s EXL Center for Entrepreneurship and Civic Engagement

Submitted by the EXL Center Faculty Advisory Council

“Breakthrough innovation occurs when we bring down boundaries and encourage disciplines to learn from each other” Gyan Nagpal, Talent Economics: The Fine Line Between Winning and Losing the Global War for Talent


Design and test new teaching and learning frameworks (classes; the “un”class) that bring together the core elements of UA’s central educational mission with the tripartite drive for innovation, engagement, and distinction. Our strategy: disciplines without borders, theory connected to application, experiential learning, community engagement, career preparedness and economic development.


Many people inside and outside the academy believe that universities and university education must change. To be sure, this has been an ongoing process. For example, consider the way digital technologies have impacted teaching and learning since the emergence of the personal computer and the internet. On the other hand, consider how much is the same: our faculty and students focus on and are often separated by disciplines, our classes are often dichotomized as either theoretical (not real world) or applied (real world), and lecture is still a dominant pedagogy.

The Problem

We are motivated by a simple question. If universities can and must change, what can we do differently, and not because the traditional approaches are necessarily bad, but because we want to ask what else is possible and valuable?

The Opportunities

If we embrace core characteristics of a polytechnic (transdisciplinary, applied learning with firm theoretical foundations, engaged with the community it serves in all of its dimensions – K-12, neighborhoods, business and government) and imagine new kinds of teaching and learning opportunities, how could we answer the call and opportunity for change?  Our answer does not come in the form of a particular device of pedagogy although it has much in common with the service learning and community-based research (SLCBR or CBRSL) approach that has evolved in many applied disciplines.

We propose first an innovation on CBRSL approach with cross-disciplinary student teams focused on community generated problems working outside a single faculty member’s curricular/traditional course-based agenda. Second, we propose to use these teams “un-classes” to test hypotheses about teaching and learning frameworks, especially those that engage students, faculty, and the community in ways that are unfettered by traditional constraints of the university.


  • Embed participants in a context of problem solving through dynamic interdisciplinary collaboration
  • Bring together faculty, students and community members to identify, understand and develop solutions in a service/experiential learning, community of practice approach to UA challenges such as (but not limited to):
    • HVAC, green campus, climate change
    • Storm water management
    • Organizational behavior, dynamics and institutional performance
    • Structure/function/utility/value and meaning of a polytechnic education
  • Leverage and enhance existing faculty student work/activities
    • Student coops and internships
    • Capstone courses/honors projects


Experiment I: Launch an open ‘design challenge’ request for identifying top issues that can be framed as research questions so that research teams can address to find new solutions for change on the UA campus. This could be similar to a Knight Challenge request for proposals, and borrow heavily from a crowdsourcing approach.

  • Gauge interest and diversity (ideas and people)
  • Evaluate how teams might be assembled
  • Rough out a structure for engagement and connect to “bean counting" structures
  • Plan and propose ‘course’ for Fall 2017

Experiment II:

  • Run course Fall 2017 with teams of faculty, community members, students, etc.
  • Evaluate for success and develop concepts for sustainability if effective

How Can the EXL Center Support This Project?

  1. EXL Center leadership and support makes this possible by launching the design competition and supporting the proposal evaluation process.
  2. EXL Center leadership and support makes this possible through staff and funding support that sustains Experiment I and II.
  3. EXL Center leadership and support makes this possible by working with upper administration to break down bureaucratic barriers, such as those that make team teaching nearly impossible.
  4. EXL Center leadership and support makes this possible by becoming a platform for sharing and mentoring in best practices related to experiential learning.
  5. EXL Center leadership and support makes this possible by providing a place and platform for the building of effective cross-disciplinary problem solving teams.