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Outdoor classes idea appealing to students

Dalhousie University students are interested in an outdoor learning model implemented in Quebec this year

4 min read
caption Students stroll through Dalhousie University’s quiet campus on South Street, Halifax NS, on March 14, 2021. The once bustling campus has been left mostly deserted by online learning.
Lauren Tulloch

Students at Dalhousie University, desperate to return to in-person learning, want the school to consider alternative methods of learning, including outdoor classes.

With the anniversary of Dalhousie University’s campus closure for COVID-19 in March 2020 in the rearview mirror, students say they are exhausted from online classes. Dalhousie University students who responded to a short survey on Instagram last week said they want to see their institution consider an outdoor learning model.

caption A Instagram story inviting students to a survey on outdoor classrooms.
Contributed/Instagram

This fall, Sherbrooke University in Quebec implemented outdoor classes to keep students engaged during the pandemic. Teachers were able to reserve designated outdoor sites for their classes, selecting from different locations based on class size and space layout.

Sherbrooke University released a guide in June 2020 that outlined starting steps to planning outdoor classes. The guide explains

organizing a committee and different types of outdoor set ups, including sites with tents and light shelters.

 

“I think this would be a great idea to help those who are struggling with online schooling. I am someone who needs to get outside for my mental health,” Faith Currie, a fifth-year student, said in a survey response. “By using outdoor classes I think we could see a great benefit in the mental health and overall learning.”

Ava Holman, another one of 13 students who responded to the survey, would also like to try in-person classes with an outdoor setting.

“With online, it’s so easy to get isolated, to feel isolated, and it was already a problem with university before,” Holman said.

Currently in her second year, Holman noted how much harder it is to be motivated. She credited the feeling to a lack of interaction.

Sherbrooke University suggested a heated tent to make use of outdoor spaces year-round, while some sites are only designed for fall use.

While students were concerned about Halifax weather making meeting locations inconsistent, almost all would prefer some classes be held outdoors rather than entirely online. They say the idea is appealing for the fall semester.

Katherine Shore, a second-year student, recalled in an interview that she’s already experienced an outdoor class setting and knows it works.

“I remember last year, in a theatre class I had, we had to do outdoor performances. So we can make that a safe way to do theatre; we even did it last year,” Shore said.

“I feel like going somewhere every day would impact your mental health. Just seeing people around you,” Shore said, shaking her head.

“When you can physically stay in your bed all day, every day, that really affects your mental health. Your whole life is just in one room.”

Overall, students said their online education is creating a lot of unhappiness. A casual stroll through the campus seems like a far off dream, and Zoom classes a harsh wake up call.

“I learn in spite of online classes, not because of them,” Cameron Dempsey, a third year student, said in her response to the survey.

Tuition hikes and physical distance have left students feeling disconnected from Dalhousie University. They said they don’t know where or how to voice their opinions.

“I feel shackled to Dalhousie,” Holman said. “I feel like especially when you don’t live on campus, it doesn’t feel like you’re a part of the ‘Dal’ community. That’s a big deal during COVID-19, when there is no ‘Dal’ community that seems to be there.”

The Dalhousie Student Union president and vice-president of academics would not comment on outdoor learning prior to discussion with their team. Deep Saini, president of Dalhousie University, did not respond to a request for comment, nor did student affairs or student life representatives.

“Online doesn’t feel like real life experience, and I would just like to have a real life experience, and feel like I’m growing and changing as a person,” Shore said, pausing to take a breath.

“Last year I loved it, I thought it was the best time, and this year it’s been really hard.”

Despite the difficulties they now face daily, all who responded to the survey expressed that being in school is still important to them.

“I want to get my degree done at the end of the day…I don’t love online, but I’d rather be doing that than not doing school at all,” Holman said.

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