Auburn University has adjusted some in-person courses to be delivered in outdoor classrooms rather than regular, indoor classrooms because of safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic as more students return to campus this semester.
Asim Ali, executive director for the Biggio Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, said the Office of the Provost has been looking at different ways classes can be delivered while also keeping students as safe as possible.
“In the summer, the provost’s office funded about $140,000 in proposals from faculty to buy technology equipment and creatively deliver learning virtually for labs and other classes that have hands-on learning,” Ali said. “Late fall, several faculty requested a way to teach outdoors, and the provost’s office and the Biggio Center worked with Facilities [Management] and the registrar’s office to identify ways to implement the request.”
Each outdoor classroom is set up to allow students to attend classes in person while also maintaining social distancing recommendations. Ali said most outdoor classrooms are set up for less than 40 students, so staying six feet apart should not be challenging.
“Essentially the outdoor classroom is a 40’ x 60’ tent with 40 student seats at 6’ tables,” Ali said. “There is an instructor area that allows connecting a laptop to a larger display.”
Matt Kearley, instructor in the college of science and mathematics’ department of biological sciences, is one faculty member making use of the outdoor classroom option. Kearley said he finds that most of his students are excited to be back to having in-person courses even though it is in an outdoor setting.
“I think many students will enjoy this method of class delivery,” Kearley said. “Many students have told me that there are so many distractions in their apartments or dorm rooms that it is hard to concentrate in many cases.”
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Both Ali and Kearley said they agree students are leaning more towards having in-person classes even in an outdoor classroom setup. They find that most students benefit more learning in-person rather than online.
“I taught three classes outside in the fall,” Kearley said. “Our department chair, Dr. [Scott] Santos, and our dean, Dr. [Nicholas] Giordano, have been extremely supportive of this idea of having students be able to meet in a safe environment.”
The University is aware that weather conditions can get in the way of classes meeting outdoors, but professors have arranged different plans if classes cannot meet in-person due to harsh weather. Kearley said he will be running his classes on Zoom in case the weather does not permit students to meet outdoors.
“All assignments will be online,” Kearley said. “All the tests will be on Canvas to accommodate everyone.”
Ali and Kearley have both worked with the University to help students and find ways that they can best benefit from their classes during these hard times.
“I think it gives students who learn in person better a great opportunity,” Kearley said.
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