Over the last year, universities have been challenged with making the difficult changes necessary to adhere to regulations in response to the COVID 19 pandemic. Many course structures have suffered from the new regulations and the quick transition to virtual class meetings and assignments. While many courses have suffered in light of COVID, there are others that have been able to continue with a primarily face-to-face model; These courses are those that make frequent use of the outdoor classroom.
In many cases, outdoor education can have numerous benefits but it is important to note that it must be used appropriately. According to Jean-Philippe Ayotte-Beaudet in their article Outdoor Education at Universities can be a Positive Legacy of the Pandemic, “Outdoor learning environments should be used only when activities have an added value” (2021). This “value” could be applying things learned in the classroom to the outdoors or improving student attention span. While hosting class in an outdoor environment has proven to be extremely beneficial with extending attention spans for individuals without Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), there is not enough data to determine benefits or disadvantages for students with ADHD. Regardless of this, the task educators are challenged with when incorporating outdoor learning into their curriculum is selecting locations that could “enhance positive stimuli and reduce nuisance stimuli” (Ayotte-Beaudet, 2021). This involves ensuring the students are comfortable, the setting is relaxed, and there is little ambient noise and distraction. This takes practice and attentiveness by the educator, as well as adequate outdoor class venues provided by the university.
One of the greatest takeaways from the COVID pandemic as it relates to higher education is that the outdoor classroom can be a helpful tool when implemented properly. If we are to move forward with providing this opportunity to professors and students, formal trainings and instruction should be offered to give educators the means to adopt outdoor education successfully.
Written by John Alexander, IUOA Student Intern & Senior studying Outdoor Recreation, Parks, and Human Ecology and Business