UT students should take their online classes outdoors

Margaret Butler

In my experience, being confined in my room for hours makes me feel restless. However, getting outdoors always helps me relax. This semester, I’ve had the chance to explore campus and find some hidden gems of outdoor study spaces with many places to sit, accessible outlets and an escape from the confines of my dorm room. 

Online classes and social distancing has left many students feeling more isolated than ever, but that doesn’t mean we should be confined to a single room. Rather than taking online classes seated inside all day, UT students living on or near campus should take advantage of outdoor study spaces around campus to increase productivity, reduce stress and engage in other physical health benefits.

I have found sitting outside in an environment free of distractions always improves my mood and helps me concentrate. There are several areas where UT students can be outside near outlets, such as outside the Williams C. Powers, Jr. Student Activity Center, on the balconies of the Texas Union or on the Patton Hall patio. 

The outdoors can be the perfect study environment to help students increase their productivity. 

“Getting away from the noise and distraction of a dorm can really help you focus,” advertising freshman Joseph Martin said.

 The UT Counseling and Mental Health Center website mentions that spending time in nature is a way to practice self care, as “research shows that spending time in nature can have remarkable benefits to human health.” 

Kathryn Redd, associate director for prevention, development and media relations at the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center said there are many benefits to spending time outdoors.

“There have been research studies that show that spending time in nature can be beneficial to our mood,” Redd said. “It can decrease feelings of stress. Somewhere even between 10 and 20 minutes outdoors can have a beneficial effect.” 

Online classes have stripped UT students from the little exposure they did have to the outdoors during walks to and from classes, leaving them confined and restless. 

“I think being outside could definitely benefit a student's mental state,” Martin said. “We are not meant to be cooped up inside all day, but that’s the effect of Zoom classes.” 

Getting outside can even help improve your physical health. Specifically, getting sufficient vitamin D can help boost your immune system and combat COVID-19 complications.

Additionally, spending a large amount of time indoors can have negative effects on your circadian rhythm, which sunlight exposure can help reset, allowing for better sleep. 

Getting enough sleep is important, especially right now.  

“We are all experiencing cumulative stress (or) stress that builds on itself,” Redd said. “Getting enough sleep (is one way to maintain a healthy mental state). For some people their sleep is off. They are spending more time on screens, which can have an impact on our ability to sleep.” 

One of the biggest advantages of online classes is students’ newfound agency. UT students are no longer restricted to a classroom and are free to take their classes anywhere, including outside — as long as we take advantage of it.  

Butler is an undeclared freshman from Austin, Texas.