By Kristy Koehler, March 11 2020—
“Expand your mind… on Saturdays” is the tagline for One Day @ UCalgary, the academic version of no-strings-attached, instant gratification. The Continuing Education Department at the University of Calgary offers a series of classes most Saturdays from September to May, with topics ranging from the Vietnam War to Renaissance art.
The classes run six hours — 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a half-hour for lunch — and are a fantastic opportunity to learn something new with no commitment. Having taken several of the classes, I can happily attest to them being worth far more than the affordable $75 price that’s being charged. You gain access to some of the best instructors at the university without having to write an essay, take notes or pass a test.
David Dick, who teaches in both the Department of Philosophy and the Haskayne School of Business, has been involved with the One Day class format for about five years now, offering his popular Philosophy of Money course.
Instructors do get paid, but it certainly isn’t the primary draw, says Dick.
“It’s a good advertisement for our department and for the work that I do because it’s another way to get my research on the Philosophy of Money out into the world — I’m trying to make Philosophy of Money a subfield of philosophical inquiry,” he said.
“It’s a really nice way of spending a Saturday engaging with students who are purely there because they want to be. I have a lot of fun with different students that I wouldn’t get to talk with otherwise so that’s a big motivation.”
Topics appeal to everyone. Paul Fairie provided a series of classes devoted to Canadian politics, American politics, municipal politics and he has another one coming up called “Everything You Need to Know About Alberta Politics.” Trevor Tombe’s “Making Sense of Equalization and Fiscal Transfers” should be mandatory for anyone with a Twitter account in Alberta and has already been offered multiple times this year.
Patsy Knutson, the One Day @ UCalgary Program Director, says politics-related courses are generally the most popular and reiterated that Tombe’s equalization class really took off.
Dick says he meets people from the community all the time who want to take his classes but can’t commit to a semester-long class or program. The One Day format offers a bite-sized version and is open to everyone — community members and current U of C students.
“It’s overwhelmingly community members,” said Dick of the demographic his classes attract. “The most common students are those in retirement — those who have the time and leisure to devote a Saturday to something like this and who want to do something to stay active and engage.
“My favorite students are the people who get it as a gift. Usually, I run the Philosophy of Money class in January and sometimes it gets advertised in November and December and some get it as a Christmas gift. That’s always really fun.”
Knutson says about 35 per cent of students are alumni, but most are community members, with only a few current students like myself taking the Saturday classes.
Enrolment has been relatively steady, despite the economic situation in Alberta, with roughly 15–20 students attending the classes. I felt the classes were an incredible value, and a good opportunity for the university to perhaps increase revenue. However, Knutson says the point of the program isn’t profit, and the prices have largely remained unchanged since the format’s inception.
“It’s a really great opportunity for people to get connected with the research and the teaching that’s going on at the university,” said Dick. “This is a really great opportunity to come in and see what the university is up to and get in contact with really cool people.”
Each time I’ve taken a One Day class, I’ve come away more motivated to learn, and with a renewed appreciation for both knowledge acquisition and for the fantastic research that’s happening at this institution. And, at the price-point, it’s virtually zero-risk learning. My appreciation for art is pretty non-existent but, having taken some of the other courses, I’d happily expand into something that doesn’t really interest me, solely for the sake of learning.
“There’s the intrinsically valuable thing which is getting to learn and that’s another reason that I keep coming back to teaching it,” said Dick. “When you’re actually in university and you’re trying to graduate it’s very easy to get instrumental about what you’re doing. ‘What do I need to know? What’s on the exam? I just need to get through it.’ Getting reacquainted with stuff because its cool to learn stuff and cool to think about stuff is a really nice place to be.”
Dick hit the nail on the head. Sometimes, the formulaic nature of classes and the need to get good grades takes away from the actual point of university — learning. Even university instructors like to take the time to learn for the sake of learning.
“I’m kind of bummed — I often want to take my colleagues’ One Day classes, but I just don’t have time,” said Dick.
Classes will be decreasing to five hours in length for next year, based on post-class feedback, says Knutson. The full list of courses still available is online.
This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.