New Classroom Takes Learning Outdoors W&L's new outdoor classroom, which offers wireless technology, writing surfaces and movable furniture, opened for Fall Term 2019.
“There are some great benefits to teaching and learning in an outdoor setting.”
~ Professor Lisa Greer
Washington and Lee’s newly constructed outdoor classroom opened for use at the beginning of this semester, providing professors and students with the opportunity to spend class time outdoors while also having a comfortable, flexible classroom arrangement.
The dell below Leyburn Library has been turned into an outdoor classroom that incorporates wireless technology, writing surfaces and movable furniture. This project is part of the university’s strategic planning initiatives centered around sustainability and environmental stewardship.
The project was guided by Lisa Greer, head of the Geology Department.
“There are some great benefits to teaching and learning in an outdoor setting. Plenty of our professors teach outside, but we don’t have any designated area that we can call a classroom,” Greer said.
Demand for a designated outdoor classroom had been high for many years; professors often take their classes outside for a change of pace. During warm, sunny days, classes can be seen sitting on the Front Lawn or in the Cohen Family Amphitheater, located between Elrod Commons and Leyburn Library.
Professors often found it difficult to get work done, however, because of the distractions of a bustling campus. The outdoor classroom offered a perfect solution.
“Often holding a class outdoors means you’ve got lots of distractions to deal with; but here, there’s a sense of focus and isolation, and the setting is so beautiful. The creek and the trees are all around, and it’s very quiet, and you almost forget you’re on a college campus,” said Provost Marc Connor, who has used the classroom for his Bible as Literature class. “The classroom has very comfortable, easy-to-move furniture, a great chalkboard, and a nice woodsy feel.”
The classroom is schedulable on a class-by-class basis, so anyone can use it.
The outdoor classroom has seen a fair amount of traffic so far this semester. Classes in literature, cognitive science, geology, biology and German have all been held in the space.
“I love the outdoor classroom. The location is also nicely isolated, which makes it much easier to have conversations without having to talk too loudly, which is often a problem on the Front Lawn,” said Wythe Whiting, head of the Cognitive and Behavioral Science Department. “The outdoor location provides an energy to our discussions that is hard to find in the classroom.”
Andrew Hess, associate professor of business administration, has also held class there.
“The students enjoyed the change of pace,” he said. “Having class outside was one of my fondest memories as a student at W&L, and I was surprised to hear many of my seniors had yet to have the experience. The new classroom offers a nice setting.”
Additional improvements are planned for the space.
“It’s only a start—we need to get flowing water to the sink and install shelving and hooks in the closet, and it would be great to put up signage and plant trees and other landscaping to make it even more functional and effective,” Conner said. “But for the first couple months of our first outdoor classroom, I think it’s a great beginning.”