Can we have class outside?
Does every student have to ask this at some point in their academic career? I am not sure if I ever asked it, but I know that I thought it at various times. There are just some days when being inside is not appealing to students or professors.
When I taught at a small liberal arts college, in some cases I answered this Eternal Question with a "yes", but I always regretted it. I have happy memories of having class outside when I was a student at a SLAC, but in that case there was an ideal space in a garden-like area, with benches curved around a central area where the professor could stand or sit. At the college where I taught, it was more of a free-form, let's-all-sit-on-the-ground in that photo-in-the-college-prospectus kind of way, and I found that I might as well have been talking to the squirrels. It was actually a relief when outdoor classes were strongly discouraged/banned owing to fears of tick-borne diseases.
Even at the Big Research U where I am now, students still ask if we can have class outside. Sometimes it is clear that they are joking -- for example, when the class has more than 100 students. Sometimes they are serious. I don't mind doing a class 'unplugged' -- I don't always project a presentation on a big screen, and am quite happy to spend a class doing an activity or having a discussion -- but there is no place where a class can easily gather outside and focus on the class and not on the nearby students playing Frisbee or whatever. Also, we have amazing squirrels on our campus, and I probably wouldn't be able to focus on the class material either if we went outside into the squirrel zone.
Maybe I am deluded to think that students in the classroom are paying attention more than they would if we were sitting outside with the squirrels, but I think I need to live with some level of delusion about that. And who knows, maybe someday I will say "OK, let's go outside." Maybe both professors and students want or need to hope that some day the stars will align and we will all go outside and sit in a circle and talk about Science, the squirrels will slowly creep closer to listen, no one will get a tick-borne disease or be hit in the head by a Frisbee, and it will be wonderful.
9 months ago