January 06, 2011
Photo by Laura J. Cole
Outdoor Classroom Ready for Use
This fall, the term “the world is your classroom” took on literal meaning for many students at Rollins College when an outdoor classroom was unveiled. Tucked under cypress trees on the shores of Lake Virginia, the new learning space has been constructed along the secluded section of the new lakeside path behind McKean Hall.
The brainchild of a handful of Rollins College faculty, including Assistant Professor of Critical Media and Cultural Studies Denise Cummings, this outdoor classroom has become the newest learning environment on a campus renowned for its aesthetic appeal.
The classroom features seven lake-facing benches and a cement podium/seat that likens a cypress tree stump. While benches in the back row are backed, the front row benches are backless to allow students to turn around and work together. Materials were chosen based on their aesthetic, indigenous appeal as well as their ability to withstand the elements. It has power outlets, a wheelchair platform, and will eventually be wired for the Internet. A new bicycle rack was also installed for users of the outdoor classroom.
Native plantings provide a welcoming entrance to the outdoor classroom, as well as screening from the adjacent McKean Hall parking lot. The entire area is almost completely shaded by giant cypress trees that block the sun but allow the lake’s gentle breezes to softly float through. As students listen to their professor, they can enjoy views of pristine Lake Virginia as well as the 55-acre Genius Preserve across the water.
With daytime temperatures that typically fluctuate between 70 to 80 degrees during the latter part of the fall term through to the early months of spring, the comfortable climate of Central Florida combined with minimal rainfall make for ideal conditions for outdoor learning, which professors have regularly taken advantage of over Rollins’ 125-year history. A pedestrian campus designed around a central green space, Mills Lawn and other secluded spots of this picturesque campus will most certainly still be used for impromptu gatherings, however, the outdoor classroom now offers an official learning space that can be reserved by professors and students in advance.
"When we speak of ‘learning green’ and conceptualize an outdoor classroom, we are really continuing a long-standing College tradition of the understood relationship between our natural and built landscapes and our educational purpose,” said Cummings. “The creation of an outdoor classroom also builds upon a past that celebrated use of our outdoor spaces for educational and community gatherings.”
Cummings is referring, in part, to the bygone “Animated Magazine,” founded by former President Hamilton Holt. Beginning in the late 1920s, Holt annually invited prominent national figures to the Rollins campus for dialogue about subjects on which they had some expertise. Hundreds to thousands of community members gathered for these talks on what Rollins today call Mills Lawn. “Even then, the use of outdoor space was embraced and understood,” Cummings reflected.
While outdoor learning is firmly entrenched in the College’s heritage, an official outdoor classroom remains a novel concept which is beginning to gain popularity. An obvious choice for classes such as environmental studies or art, proponents of the outdoor classroom also hope that professors teaching subjects from math to marketing will also see value in the opportunity to teach al fresco.
“To book the outdoor classroom, people should log onto Virtual EMS and complete the request form,” said Assistant Director of Scheduling and Event Services Brandy Burgess. “The outdoor classroom will be one of the three choices available under the McKean building.”