In temperate climates, an outdoor classroom could stimulate intellectual thinking, especially when surrounded with an inspiring landscape lush with large planters and vegetation.
Leveraging Outdoor Classrooms to Enhance the Learning Experience
The Greeks taught all day in the natural environment. Whether out of necessity or choice, it seemed to be a good idea. Students followed along with the teacher, thoughts proliferated, ideas were challenged and accepted, and raw concepts were examined with robust discussion.
Students are known to spend hours practicing sports outdoors and instructors have been known to observe under the same conditions. With all that outdoor space, it seems like a waste not to take advantage of such an opportunity.
Obviously, certain subjects will lend themselves to an outdoor venue while others will not. However, with a proper overhead structure (see tips below), occasional rain showers shouldn’t affect outdoor classes.
How to Design an Outdoor Classroom
The more natural the setting, the better outdoor classrooms work. Two elevations with a swale separating them allows natural drainage, while one becomes the lectern and the other becomes student seating.
Concrete plant containers submerged in the soil are arranged in ascending rows and tough matte grass is planted for low maintenance. Bark chips would do just as well – the benefit here being no mowing! Concrete tables that seat four would lend to a more informal lecture hall.
As an alternative, an attractive decking would provide an established surface ready for any furnishing. This design may be a bit less “natural,” but perhaps more comfortable.
A simple and handsome wood structure anchored in footing and covered with a heavy-duty canvas would provide full coverage from UV and rain. Left to the imagination, the model could take several forms, limited only by budget and topography.
Accessories for Outdoor Classrooms
Adding unique style to the structure, landscape furnishings and plants can reflect the ambiance of the university as a whole. Stone plant containers with maintenance-free evergreens or shrubs will give the classroom character and help establish the ground perimeter. If noise is an issue, planting pots at head height with massive shrub crowding results in excellent sound absorption. Even with overhead shelter and shrub crowding, the outside ambiance is still present.
Adapting to an Outdoor Classroom
Similar to a street cafe, outdoor classrooms may bring in unwelcome traffic and drop-ins. Instructors and students may need a little time to adapt to this new environment. However, a campus that decides to experiment with outdoor classrooms may find greater rewards than expected… and perhaps a few surprises.
Accepting the challenge of learning how to function under new circumstances – isn’t this what a college campus should promote? The students and their instructors will rise to the occasion and find the new setting delightful. There may even be a lottery to see who wins the privilege to teach in this outdoor space each year.
So what do you think of this unusual idea? Seem farfetched? Feel free to comment your thoughts below.