Section: Features

Outdoor learning presents safe alternative during pandemic

Outdoor learning presents safe alternative during pandemic

Professor of Biology Joan Slonczewski has embraced the opportunity to teach outdoors. | OCEAN WEI

With the need for safe in-person learning environments as classes resume, Kenyon made an unprecedented decision: to implement outdoor learning spaces for use as classrooms during the 2020-21 academic year. This decision came from the desire to protect Kenyon’s faculty, staff and students while still providing in-person courses.

 The Classroom Spaces committee, a working group that decided upon the spaces to utilize for classrooms this fall, created this plan. Professors were given the option to teach outdoors or stay in a traditional classroom setting. The outdoor classroom spaces are constructed from large white tents, four in total, located by the north basketball courts and Science Quad.

Professor of Biology Joan Slonczewski communicated with the administration that they wanted to teach their classes outdoors, emphasizing that outdoor learning provides many new opportunities and aids students’ concentration rather than disrupting it. 

Slonczewski enjoys having a teaching environment surrounded by nature and encourages students to combine their lectures with real-world experiences in the environment around them. They note that the outdoor spaces allow for the opportunity to bring animals into the classroom that are not typically allowed in a “normal” learning environment. Slonczewski mentioned that they were able to bring in a tortoise to their class recently, which would be more difficult in the traditional class space. In this same manner, students are more likely to bring their emotional support animals to classes. 

Slonczewski expressed gratitude for the Library and Information Services (LBIS) team that has provided the necessary technical support for outside classes. “It’s a challenge for the College to maintain equipment and take down the equipment every day [for security reasons],” they noted. 

Tim Neviska, events and classroom technology specialist at Kenyon, notes that the implementation of the outdoor learning spaces has provided challenges for the user services team in LBIS. “[The] biggest hurdle was overcoming the amount of ambient light present in an outdoor environment, which required very high-brightness projectors,” he said. 

Emily Rogers ’24, a first-year student from Columbus, Ohio, is currently enrolled in a political science class that meets in a tent near the basketball courts. Rogers noted that she and her classmates face distinct challenges related to outdoor learning. They must use music stands rather than tables, which often leads to papers being blown off and makes note-taking more difficult. The outdoor spaces also bring faculty and students into contact with all types of weather conditions; Ohio weather can be unpredictable, with large temperature fluctuations and chances for storms or even snow. Students will still attend classes remotely during extreme weather when the outdoor spaces are shut down, which occurred during the tornado warnings that closed down the tent spaces on Sept. 7. 

At the end of the day, Slonczewski feels that the advantages of teaching outdoors outweigh the inconveniences. As the Department of Biology’s expert on viruses, they note that, during the current pandemic, teaching in an outdoor setting is simply “the safest way to teach.”

 

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