Outdoor Classrooms have provided ‘an intellectual life in public’ on campus

Marcel Hurtubise, Reporter

As a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, California Lutheran University erected four outdoor classrooms to prevent the spread of the virus while having in-person classes.

Assistant Registrar for Registrar Services Robyn Ballard said in an email interview that since the classrooms went up in the fall of 2021, an average of 20 classes per semester have been held in Swenson tents A and B, Swenson Science Center tent and Ahmanson Science Center tent.

Political Science professor Jose Marichal said that the experience of wearing masks indoors did not create an environment where he could connect with his students, which is why he originally opted for the outdoor classrooms.

“And then I just kinda really enjoyed being outside,” Marichal said. “I actually think it’s nice for there to be an intellectual life in public on a campus. I’ve been here 20 years and I always felt we don’t have as much of an intellectual life in public space sometimes.”

Marichal said that outdoor classrooms are safer and less stressful for those who have a pre-existing health condition, know someone with one, and those for whom “the pandemic is still real.”

Sociology professor Adina Nack also uses outdoor classrooms for her lectures. 

“Once masking was no longer required inside classrooms last March, I opted to teach in the outdoor tent classroom because of the reduction in risks of airborne infections for not only myself but also for my students who are immunocompromised or live in households with vulnerable family members,” Nack said.

However, junior Davyn Branch said she took an outdoor class during the fall semester and did not enjoy it.

 “I like a steady environment, like, indoor, and there was just a lot of distractions outside like people walking, noise, the internet barely worked in the tent. There was just a lot of things going on,” Branch said.

Branch said that she was easily distracted and the outside nature of the classroom caused her to lose focus during class. She also said that she did not know when signing up for her class that it was outside.

“I chose that class because it was interesting, but if I knew it was gonna be outdoors I would’ve taken another one,” Branch said.

Branch said that the technology of the tents was not the best as the monitor would flicker and the heaters would not work.

Branch said the weather became an issue for outdoor classes, especially as the heaters often did not work and the cold still affected classes.

“For the first half it was okay because it was nice weather, but for the second half it was actually horrible,” Branch said.

Marichal said that he does not hold classes in extreme weather to combat this. He also said he has had a good experience with the heat lamps.

“Campus Services is really good at sending people in and turning the heat lamps on,” Marichal said. “I think anybody that wants to teach–it’s probably worth having a conversation early on with the students and deciding when what temperature is too cold or what temperature is too hot for students.”

If the weather is too much of an issue, Marichal said he goes on Zoom so the students do not have to sit outdoors during that time. 

“Teaching in a tent classroom comes with weather challenges that might be better mediated with different equipment,” Nack said. “For colder weather, the installation of electric heaters may be beneficial in that they would not need to be refilled and not be vulnerable to being knocked over by strong winds. For warmer weather, the availability of large fans might be helpful. For classes that end after sunset, better lighting may be helpful.”

Nack said that she hopes the university considers keeping the outdoor classrooms.

“I’m not sure if outdoor tent classrooms will continue to be available for courses after this spring semester, but I hope the university will consider the potential benefits of refurbishing and retaining at least a few tent classrooms because our climate is typically well-suited for outdoor socializing and events,” Nack said.