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OPINION: Outdoor Classrooms: Good on Paper, Bad in Practice

By William Barnhart, Columnist

With the weather changing, many people are going outside to take advantage of the pleasant conditions. More activities are taking place outside, and some students even hope to have their lectures outdoors. Unfortunately, such opportunities are very rare. Not all students may be able to enjoy the weather during class time due to the unique characteristics of a class. This could range from the the students enrolled in the class to the material presented in the class. Upon initial thought, having a lecture outdoors sounds like a great idea. In reality, it is not as pleasant as it seems.

The spring weather is often welcomed after the harsh effects of winter. However, spring comes with some of its own downsides as well. With the snow melting all around us, there is going to be mud where there’s usually grass. The probability of some unfortunate individual ruining their clothes or some other item of value during an outdoor class is much higher in this ‘mud season.’ Unless it’s a class dedicated to studying soil and other earthen items, people probably won’t want to be around mud.

A major issue with the spring weather is the onset of allergies. Everyone is different when it comes to reacting to the weather, but it’s a significant issue. Some people may have allergies so bad that it could inhibit their ability to participate in class. If a student is paying to get credit for a class, then obviously there should be accomodations made so that they can have a fair chance at getting through the course material. No student should be unable to take a class due to such arbitrary preferences.

Some classes may have lectures that are mostly taught orally and don’t require too many visual aids. In this case, an outdoor lecture could possibly work because there may not be a need for a whiteboard or any of its counterparts. Dr. Lauren Cattaneo, a psychology professor here at Mason, says that having a class outdoors would be too distracting unless there was “very engaging material” presented “like a conversation.” If it was “[discussed] accurately, it could work.” As nice as it sounds, it would not be feasible to have a class outdoors in most circumstances.

Ultimately, the lectures are delivered at the discretion of the lecturers themselves. They may find an outdoor environment too distracting for their pupils. After all, Fairfax is a very busy place during daytime and there are not many spaces where lectures could be held outdoors with little to no distractions. Some students may find themselves wanting an outdoor lecture because they want a change of scenery during class, so that the material doesn’t feel as dry. It’s a normal reaction to find oneself more easily distracted during a dry lecture. But at some point, someone has to beg the question: Would we be getting the education we’re paying for? If we aren’t able to learn the material we are paying to learn, then the class must be restructured to learn.

Photo by Allie Thompson