Students and faculty are finding new ways to diversify the classroom experience over Zoom by taking or conducting classes outdoors.
Luisa Camila Valdez-Vela, a junior in the professional accounting master’s program, said she often takes classes outside because it helps relieve stressors that come from indoor learning. Valdez-Vela said she goes to an outdoor space in her apartment complex at least two times a week, especially on days when she has less work to do.
“When I take classes indoors, I notice I get distracted easily, and I feel claustrophobic,” Valdez-Vela said. “When I’m outside … I get the fresh air, and I feel good about myself and like I did something more productive than just going to class.”
Dave Junker, an associate professor of instruction in advertising and public relations and Moody College Honors Program director, said that as beautiful as campus is, there are struggles that come with teaching outside.
“At UT, you are surrounded by 200-year-old live oaks, regal old buildings and elegant new ones, public art (and) statuary,” Junker said. “I would love to go outside more often, but … (places) have to be quiet because we can’t livestream or hear each other with our masks covering our faces if there’s background noise.”
Social work senior Karleigh Neill said she thinks outdoor online classes are not permanent solutions to issues with virtual learning, but being outside can introduce some sense of normalcy to students’ everyday lives.
“As a senior taking 21 hours (while) trying to find an internship and do well in my classes, where I would (have been able to) go on campus and take out that stress in the library or at the gym … being outside is definitely a great (new) way to relieve (stress),” Neill said.
Valdez-Vela said taking online classes outdoors has helped her academically, and she thinks it could have long-term benefits for students and faculty who are spending hours on Zoom.
“After the first round of midterms, I performed poorly … so I started going outside because of that, and I’ve been way better,” Valdez-Vela said.
Since students may be busy throughout the day or have varying weekly schedules, Neill recommends individuals try to find moments, no matter how small, to be outdoors.
“If you are able to get out and be outside, even if it’s just for one of your 50-minute classes or to read a chapter for one of your classes, I think it’s really great,” Neill said.