Hosting classes outside has positive and negative effects on students and professors

By Grace Hogsten

Elm Staff Writer

On warm, beautiful days, Washington College students wish they could abandon their classrooms to spend time outside, and sometimes their professors oblige; it is not unusual to see a professor teaching class outside on a nice day.

“I personally love having class outdoors. I have four classes and a lab on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays…Having…class outside gives me a chance to enjoy the outdoors and get some fresh air,” sophomore Lauren Kidder said.

Many students enjoy attending class outside; with busy schedules full of classes, assignments, extracurricular activities, and work, they appreciate the chance to make the most of a beautiful day on campus.

Some students also find the outdoors to be a beneficial learning environment. While the College has many academic buildings with great resources, a wide-open space and fresh air can be a refreshing change, especially considering the smaller classrooms in historic buildings such as William Smith Hall.

“Outdoor classes [are]…a really nice change of scenery, especially given how crowded and stuffy it can be inside classrooms that fill their seating limits,” sophomore Emi Bernstein said.

A more casual learning environment can allow students to feel more comfortable participating in class and sharing their ideas.

“I feel like [having class outside] boosts participation because students feel happier…they feel more confident and are more likely to contribute to discussions,” sophomore CJ Dunker said.

Despite the benefits of teaching classes outside, it also comes with many challenges and limitations. One main issue is a lack of resources outside, including chairs, whiteboards, and projectors.

“For most of my lectures…the material I’m presenting is typically somewhat complex, so there’s graphs and figures…I’m a really visual learner myself, and I know that some students are [too,]” Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Martin Connaughton said.

Many courses include visual material that professors can only present on a projector or draw on a whiteboard. If the lesson plan is designed around such content, the professor cannot teach the class outdoors.

Since WC does not have many designated outdoor classrooms, many of the locations where a class could meet outside are not as comfortable or accessible as a traditional classroom. Outdoor spaces may not include chairs that provide back support. Students are also exposed to more potential allergens outside.

“There can be access issues…since learning outside is often impromptu and can lack the physical support that some students and instructors need,” Associate Professor of English and Director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House Dr. James Allen Hall said.        

Often, the success of an outdoor class session depends on the available resources, such as seats, tables, or other technology.

“I really like teaching outside. My only thing with WC is that we don’t have spaces to teach outside…We have one here that is supposed to be the outdoor classroom [behind Goldstein]. In reality, it’s just the back of a building,” Associate Professor of Spanish and Director of Black Studies Minor Dr. Elena Deanda-Camacho said.

Without designated outdoor classrooms, it is difficult to move courses outside. If students want to attend more classes outside, they should voice this desire and ask for more outdoor classroom spaces, according to Dr. Deanda-Camacho.

Some classes, including many in the natural sciences, necessitate some type of experience outside of the classroom. For example, Dr. Connaughton teaches classes outside on various field trips, including those for the College’s Chesapeake Semester.

“Those are lectures that…I’ve prepared to speak outside…I’m on a trail in Acadia National Park or on a beach with Dr. Fox and the students in Bermuda or a rainforest in Belize, or a campsite at the Susquehanna [for] Chesapeake Semester,” Dr. Connaughton said.

Many courses at WC proceed most effectively inside; they simply are not designed to function in a space with less resources. However, spending time learning outdoors can be an extremely beneficial experience, especially for lessons designed to take place in a different environment.

Photo by Parker Thornton.

Photo Caption: The Campus Green is an ideal place to host classes outside, but the lack of chairs and technology may pose accessibility issues.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *