COVID-19 takes classes outdoors
Jessica Guerrucci – Editor-in-Chief
When Political Science Professor Jonathan Wharton brought up the idea of having classes outdoors, he said it was laughed off – but now looking around campus, students can see desk chairs set up outside.
“I had been frustrated for years that there was no conducive space for teaching,” said Wharton. “I taught at a variety of different universities and there was picnic tables, chairs and teachers already teaching outside.”
Before COVID-19 changed the ways that colleges operate, Wharton said he often taught outdoors at his prior college, Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, but when he arrived at Southern, he could not find space to do it.
“I tried on the stairs, I tried on the benches, but they’re bolted to the ground, there’s no tables that are moveable,” said Wharton. “Where can you possibly do it?”
Twenty desks chairs can now be seen set up outside of Morrill Hall and 17 between Earl Hall and the Student Center, and while it is not quite what Wharton had in mind, but he said it is a start.
“What I was kind of hoping for was picnic tables or more Adirondack chairs,” he said, “but maybe that will be in the future.”
In Lot 1, the third outdoor classroom is situated under the solar panels, and more similar to Wharton’s vision, students bring their own chairs and it fits about 30 spaces.
According to Brad Crerar, director of the Adanti Student Center, faculty will have the ability to reserve the spaces for any amount of time from a single day to the entire semester through a reservation software on the student center website.
Like other classrooms, Crerar said everyone will still have to wear masks and practice social distancing. The chairs and the desktops are also cleaned daily.
“I always thought outdoor classes were always much more interesting,” said Crerar. “I’ve seen professors over the years do outdoor classrooms and they seem to have a better connection with the students.”
President Joe Bertolino, who is holding some of his classes outside this semester, said he thought the idea of outdoor classes was great so he had asked facilities to locate spaces on campus that would make the most sense to hold classes.
“I had assumed that folks would want to be outside as much as possible,” said Bertolino. “We also took the time to order a bunch of picnic tables.”
On the first day back to school, Bertolino said he held his class outside in front of Earl Hall and it was a beautiful day for it.
“My class is in the late afternoon and it was perfect, and everyone was able to wear their masks and spread out and participate,” he said. “It went well.”
In the case that students do not want to go outside, Bertolino said classes still have an assigned indoor meeting space and it has to be something that the whole class agrees to doing.
On Southern’s Twitter account, a poll was posted asking students if they would be willing to participate in outdoor classes and 83 percent said yes.
Business administration major Lindsay Cull, a senior, who sat in one of the empty outdoor classrooms on her laptop, said she thinks the idea of having outdoor classes makes sense.
“For right now, yeah [it makes sense],” said Cull. “It’s enjoyable to not be confined to classrooms.”
She said the full classes would be a concern and the inability to adequately social distance in those rooms, so she said outdoor is a reasonable alternative.
“I like being outdoors,” said Cull. “So, it’s a nice change of scenery and it’s laid back and calm.”
For Business major Edward Garcia, a sophomore, he said being outdoors is better than nothing or working from home.
Accounting major William Arroyo, a sophomore, agreed, saying the biggest issue would likely come to be the weather.
“It’s a nice idea until the winter when it starts getting cold, but I think it’s a pretty good idea cause you’re outdoors; you’re not stuck inside a classroom.”
While being indoors was not a big concern for Garcia, he said everyone reacts differently to COVID-19 and outside can be seen as a safer option.
“Some people might, not overreact, but will be more upset about [COVID-19],” he said. “It depends on how people feel.”
Despite the idea coming to life as a result of COVID-19, Bertolino said it is a possibility that students could see more outdoor classrooms in the future.
While some professors already took their students outside in previous years, he said it opens up an opportunity and makes it more comfortable for professors who have not thought to do outdoor classes before.
“I think a lot of things that we’ve done during COVID may prove to be some that we do a little bit more of in the future,” said Bertolino. “Whether it’s online or outside.”
Photo credit: Jessica Guerrucci