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Eckerd College encourages faculty to take learning outside

Jaymi Butler

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Eckerd College
Eckerd College instructors can use this map to identify and reserve outdoor teaching space. The school is offering all faculty members the option of teaching outside in hopes of limiting the spread of Covid-19.

When Eckerd College students head back to campus this fall, they might discover they’re not returning to the classroom. Not the indoor kind, that is. 

Eckerd recently announced it will give faculty members the option to teach their classes outdoors to help reduce the spread of Covid-19. While outdoor learning isn’t a new concept for Eckerd, whose motto is Think Outside, this will be the first time it will be as widespread. A survey of 100 faculty members showed that more than 83 percent were interested in teaching outdoors, and more than a quarter said they’d teach outside for every class every day.

How will the logistics of outdoor learning work? Eckerd’s got that covered, too. Professors Elizabeth Forys and Noëlle Boucquey recently mapped out a full list of suitable academic spaces across the 188-acre campus so instructors won’t have to waste time searching for prime outdoor classroom real estate. They identified 51 sites, 27 of which have natural or manmade shade structures and 24 that can accommodate larger classes of 20 or more. The majority of the sites have moderate to good Wi-Fi and the school’s IT department is working to improve the signals in areas that don’t. 

“I think there are enough spaces to accommodate every simultaneously scheduled course on campus,” said Boucquey, who teaches environmental studies.  

Faculty members will be able to use the map Forys and Boucquey created to reserve space for their class meetings. According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, instructors will use microphones that plug into their cellphones and they’ll broadcast PowerPoint presentations to students’ cell phones or tablets. As for the seating, it’s BYOC – bring your own chair. This will allow teachers and students to configure the outdoor space to promote social distancing. 

Eckerd is uniquely positioned when it comes to being able to provide outdoor learning, Boucquey said. 

“One of the advantages we have on our side in Florida is the weather,” she said. “We can have classes outside and no one is freezing as they would in northern states.”

If it rains, instructors will have the option of moving classes indoors or offering them online. Eight of the sites can be used even in bad weather, and the school plans to build more temporary outdoor structures. 

For Forys, who has taught lab classes outside for 12 years, outdoor learning just makes sense, especially in light of the pandemic. 

“When we closed campus in March for the pandemic, I thought, ‘I’m going to teach outside when we return’ because outdoor transmission is much lower than indoor transmission,” she said.

Forys told The Chronicle that the downsides to outdoor learning from an educational standpoint are minimal. 

“Sometimes I’ll see students staring off into space at a pelican, but they’re really thinking about the complicated thing that we’re talking about,” she said. 

Eckerd alumni shared fond recollections of their experiences with outdoor learning on the school’s Facebook page. 

“Having class outside was one of my favorite memories while at Eckerd,” one alumna wrote. 

 

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