Learning and teaching at the college level can be both rewarding and relentlessly stressful. Students wake up and sprint to class just in time to be counted present, while professors fade into the stacks of papers that still need to be graded.
Maryville College students and faculty come to life towards the end of the semester only to take a short break before starting all over again. That exhaustive repetition can drain the morale and motivation of both professors and students.
Some MC professors have found a way to combat that repetition while at the same time teaching valuable lessons and material. These professors take the typical classroom environment and flip it upside down by doing away with the classroom altogether.
I have personally experienced this type of learning environment on two occasions. Kim Trevathan, an associate professor of writing communications at MC, recently took my fiction writing class on an adventure into the Maryville College woods in search of lost ruins.
The “ruins” we found were interesting to say the least, and it gave us all some interesting fictional story ideas. Aside from the leaning and investigative aspects, we have a beautiful campus at MC and it was great to enjoy it as a class.
I also took Theology of Liberation with Dr. Andrew Irvine, an associate professor of philosophy and religion at MC. In the class, not only did we have class outside on occasion, we also helped a local church with their garden and served food to those in need as part of our course curriculum.
I love this type of experiential learning and wanted to know if other students felt the same way. I spoke with Rob Macri, a senior exercise science major at MC, about his experience with classes like this. Macri took a class taught by Dr. Steve called, Measurements and Evaluations in P.E.
“It was a class that dealt more with the physical aspect of measurements on fitness opposed to pure book lecture and the information is more retainable when applied in an applied environment and not strictly reading and memorization,” said Macri.
I also spoke with Heather Byrge, a junior Chemistry major, who has been lucky enough to have more than one class that utilized this teaching method.
“I have had class outside for Dr. Duncan’s Instrumental Methods class and Dr. Jay Clark’s Natural History of the Southern Appalachians course,” said Byrge. Both times were in the outdoor classroom at Sutton.
Dr. Duncan also does outdoor classes there for his beer brewing course. “I really enjoy being in nature when learning. I feel like being outside brightens everyone’s mood and the sun is good for energy levels. I also think it makes class time more relaxing and usually makes it easier to focus.”
After speaking with these students, I firmly believe that the professors who utilize the outdoor environment on and off campus are doing a great service to their students. A student can read and take notes on nature all semester, but to truly experience nature is something different altogether, and in my mind far more meaningful.