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On meeting outside (and attending to the consequences!)

Anne Dalke's picture


As few years ago, a senior in "Ecological Imaginings" posted this comment on Serendip: Having class outside is not working for me.  At first, I was excited to have class outside. I love being outside!  I’m realizing now that I should not mix school and outside.  Even though we’re physically outside of the classroom, the standards for our performance in discussions haven’t changed.  I spent a lot of time on Wednesday in class wondering what the blue jay was squawking about, and what the red tailed hawk was hunting for, and why it got so quiet in the last 15 minutes of class.  There were times when I had to look at my hands to keep them from picking at the grass and building log cabins with the twigs on the ground.  All the while, I felt guilty for not paying attention the way I am supposed in class.  If we’re expecting the same kind of attention to discussion as we do in other classes, then I think we should move inside.  If we’re expecting something different from discussion in this class, then I think we need to go over the rules.

What do you think the "rules of engagement" should be for our meetings in these alternative spaces?
Are they implicit? Should we make them explicit?

In order for us to work on these questions together,
each of you will do three things (but you only have to do them once!)
The night before the date assigned to you below,
* check weatherunderground to confirm conditions,
* then send an e-mail (or text?) telling us where we will meet, and why you've selected that site;
* after class, post a comment describing
how you made your decision,
and also what you noticed about our behavior in your site--
especially about how we coped (or not) w/ the distractions of being there.

Do you have any ideas about how to incorporate these reflections into our curriculum?
How might they evolve over the semester? Let's see....

Th, 10/2 Anne--the chairs outside English House
T, 10/4 All--the Cloisters
Th, 10/6 All--in the classroom
T, 10/21 Allie--below her favorite tree, overlooking the athletic fields
Th, 10/23 Emily--the classroom (while dreaming of Taft Garden)
T, 10/28 Grace--Taft Garden
Th, 10/30 Hadiyyah--the classroom
T, 11/4 CLASS WITH MARIA LUISA CRAWFORD (inside and out!)
Th, 11/6 Marjorie--Common Room of Merion Dormitory
T, 11/11 Nayanthi--from the Sunken Garden to the Stone Platform near Erdman (with photos!)
Th, 11/13 Rina--Haffner--> Erdman, with lunch (and with Anne in Puerto Rico)
T, 11/18 Rose--the classroom
Th, 11/20 Selena--the classroom
T, 11/25 Sydney--in the classroom
Th, 11/27 Thanksgiving!
T, 12/1 Virushi--the classroom
Th, 12/3 Weilla--our "warm and cozy classroom"
T, 12/9-Th, 12/11 finale, in both Taylor classrooms, w/ the other section....


Anne Dalke's picture

...because we were beginning to read about "play" in alternate spaces, and "play" with other species, and just generally starting to shift the focus of our class from our individual identities (and how they "connect" with those of other humans) to the environment in which these connections take place.  When we met for the first time out in front of English House, there was lots of noise (mowers? leave blowers?), which reminded me of why I like to hold class in closed-in spaces, where I feel more in "control." I didn't see any value (for our education) in those interruptions. But I was also amazed @ how many of us were troubled by the bugs--not just the bee, but the really-can't-hurt you ant and daddy long-legs. Now that we've read about "ravens @ play," I wonder how we are thinking about our own encounters with other species. I thought the bugs were inviting us into other sorts of "contact" than a class inside could possibly do...but I was also not seeing that many (most?) of us had any interest in that sort of exchange...

Anne Dalke's picture

... was in the Cloisters, which seemed much less objectionable to members of the class, not quite sure why: because of... the surrounding building? ... the absence of trees? ... the option of different forms of seating? I also noticed that several of you left (and then returned) during classtime (which I haven't noticed happening when we were meeting inside): do you freer to go, when we are outside? Less "bound" by any classroom confines? Less "trapped" in space? I also noticed that another bee visited us; he didn't seem to bother Selena any more than last week's visitor troubled Sydney. She just got up calmly and moved away....

smartinez's picture

Unfortunately I walked into the cloisters today and couldn't find you all then realized that class setting was going to change. Not sure if I didn't get the email but I'm currently walking around looking for you all.. 

aquato's picture

I chose to stay inside because the weather was terrible and I doubt anybody wanted to sit on wet leaves. I guess part of it is that we were in Jodie's room for a while this time, too, so that's a different environment in itself. I think we worked pretty ok in there, it's just another room; people weren't too distracted in there. Certain people talked more than others since we were in a different group, I think. We got more lively after coming back to our room.

While we weren't distracted back in good ol' Taylor E, we went on a few tangents, and at one point we were all talking over each other (which doesn't usually happen? That might just have been due to the discussion topic). On a sidenote, I noticed that everybody was sitting next to their 10-week partners. I don't know if that means anything, but hey! Neat!

Leigh Alexander's picture

I made my descision to meet under the tree on the hill over the athletic fields because it is my favorite outdoor place on campus.  Since I like to do a lot of thinking in, under, or near trees, I felt that this would be a good interactive thinking space to have our class discussion.  

One thing I had not considered when I picked my site for class was the fact that it was on a hill, which made for some diffult seating arrangments.  I usually have trouble sitting still for a whole class, but in this case especially, the hill made for a very uncomfortable muscle strain in my leg which forced me to shift my seating position so my body was turned away from part of our group.  I noticed other people rearranging themselves, especially us grass-goers, but as a whole I think the situation worked pretty well. The tree is out of direct foot traffic so we didn't have to worry about too many people passing by, just the occasional plane, and because it was pretty sheltered from main campus, and the athletic fields are not typically in use during the day, there weren't too many people to stare at and get distracted by (except of course the giant grasshopper on the stairs, and one very excited looking tour group I noted).   Although I would say that the situation wasn't ideal, I think it made for a nice space to have class in, and I think our discussion worked well.  I'm also glad everyone could find it!


Hgraves's picture

So, I chose to have class inside last Thursday and I would say that I thought we had had a pretty productive class period. For me personally, although I was engaged, it was a bit distracting because the journalism student shadowing Anne was tying and it was kind of loud in my ear. I'm not sure if the person sitting on the other side of her felt the same way, but sometimes I felt myself being drawn towards what she was doing and zoning out for a bit. But, otherwise I thought we had a pretty good class. The discussion wnet very well to me and everyone was awake and alert.

gmchung's picture

For Tuesday's class, I chose to have class in Taft Garden. To be honest, I never really spent more than five minutes there. On Monday, I was looking for a place to have class and being the typical LA beach girl that I am, I wanted to be surrounded by the sound of water. When I visited Taft for about two minutes, I checked for two things. The first was if my need to hear water was met--it was. The second was if there were enough benches and concrete to sit on without being interrupted by bugs. I didn't really take into account a lot of other things, which I should have paid attention to. 

Because I only visited the garden for a brief amount of time, I did not realize how annoying the sound of water would become. When class first started, the sound of water was relaxing to me, but as class started to go on, I found myself getting distracted by the water and my need to pee. I also did not realize how the movement of the leaves would distract the class. I never really noticed the leaves moving until the class pointed it out to me. After staring at the leaves moving in the water, I found it easy to tune out everyone else and get lost within my own thoughts. There was also an extra face that I think was smoking a cigarette because I ended up catching a whiff of smoke here and there. Despite the distractions, I thought that having class in Taft discussing a book that relies heavily on the usage of nature and environment really helped open up the class to discussion.

wwu2's picture

Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t really good on Thursday. My options narrow down to only indoor places. I often have my customs teas in my dorm’s common room. I love the warm lighting shining on my face. The space is genial and cozy, like home, so I chose to have class here in Merion. 

For some of the other spots we met outside, people are too spread apart, and, with other noises, we can barely hear each other. So before the class starts, we prearranged the seatings in a small rectangular. And the dull weather didn't negatively affect our attentiveness in class. I am glad that we are more interactive in this environment. And also, when I first picked this site, I was afraid that people would get too comfortable in the sofa, and may zone out easily in class. However, to my surprise, people still really focus in class. The times flew by so quickly. It was a pleasant and new experience to have Esem at a dormitory. 

changing9's picture

Although I planned to have class in the Sunken Garden which I love, I realized that it was way too loud and distracting because of the Haffner construction sight next to it. Anne suggested that we have class in either the wooden enclosed area across from the sunken garden, or the stone seat near Erdman, and I chose the latter. 

It was truly a beautiful location surrounded by trees. It is built in the shape of a small circle, so everyone could sit around the circle on the stone ledge and feel equally included in the conversation. There was also a steel bench on which two students decided to sit. We had to move (break off) a branch of a nearby tree to make room for everyone.

I found myself getting distracted slightly when people would walk by, but it wasn't something I noticed in the others. The class was very interactive and it felt like time went by very fast.

rppatel's picture

We met in erdman today as many of us were excited about having lunch during a normal lunch time. I also mad e amistake and thought Hafner would be open at 11 but it didn't open until 12 so we migrated to erdman. The time it took to figure out where to sit and grabbing food did cut into discussion time a bit. the table was long and ractangular so we were not in our normal discussion circle. Because of this we ended up splitting into two different smaller groups. It was sort of expected for us to get distracted and off topic a bit. But I think we did rreally well with our initial discussion of what happened in Kolbert's book and essay ideas. I feel proud of the class for sticking to meeting and discussing even though our professor wasn't there. It was funny how all of us said our friends reacted the same when they heard we were still devoted to esem without the professor but just did it with food. 

rokojo's picture

People seemed pretty thankful for our meeting in the classroom on that cold tuesday. We stayed warm as the wind blew against the windows. The individual meetings went about the same way they usually go. We talked about a lot of important/helpful things and got off topic for a little while. I'm not sure if that was because of the classroom environment, since this mirrors group discussions I've had in other locations. I do think the classroom environment was a good choice for the second half since we made use of the chalkboard, something we wouldn't have had in another location. The chalkboard helped us visualize our ideas. We were able to contrast our agreements and doubts with the reading we did, although we ran out of time towards the end. Without the chalkboard, I think we would've had a harder time with the group discussion.

Serendip Guest's picture

chose for us to have class in the classroom because I was worried that the wind would be too powerful for us to have effective conversation. I showed up to class a bit late, but when I arrived, I noticed that the circle of desks was closer together than usual. The beginning conversation was fairly emotional, and I think that this physical closeness allowed for people to feel more sensitive with one another. Other than this, I think that the conversation was interesting and from what I noticed while making my conversation web, most people contributed to the conversation multiple times, which is always great. Like the conversation that we had last class, I think that everyone cares about what is going and tries to connect comments to things previously said. The conversation web that I made during last class helped to back up this claim as well.

Overall, I think that we had a focused conversation that was engaging to everyone. Maybe it was the closeness of the circle or just the fact that we were indoors. I think that the topic of discussion influences people’s involvement most, not location of the class; maybe it would be interesting to make a conversation web during a class outside to see if location influences how people converse with one another in our class.

smartinez's picture

There were a few different locations to consider for holding an indoor discussion because the weather was not our side such as the Pem West Common Room or maybe the dinner table in the LILAC building that can be reserved, but ulitmately I decided to meet there mainly because of the varying distance each person may be traveling. Meeting in Taylor again seemed like slightly equal distance from most of the dorms and other academic buildings. While the discussions held in class always seem productive, mapping out the conversation kept me farther away from confusion. And looking at everyones way of mapping helped me identify other ways of taking notes. Each persons' interpretation of the reading may reflect through the mapping they chose. For example Ally's seemed to circle towards the middle maybe looking for a specific answer while Rinas continously extentended in different directions and Grace's was listed straight down really holding and an organizational aspect. That day's conversation made me pick up a lot on different ways of learning and reminded me how no conversation will be the same for the delivering or recieving end. 

winterprincess's picture

The environment that I chose was the classroom itself, but it felt different this time. It was sopped to snow was it rained there seemed to be a dull mood already set in and to top in finals are just around the corner. And then Anne asked us how we all were feeling, ‘ahh’ we broke out into saying panic, shapeless and some tried to even mask it. In the beginning when we spoke about plants and greenery everyone’s attention and mind was some place else and I could just feel it. But, after some time when we got to talk about our thoughts on it, a feeling of warmth crept in which wouldn’t have if we were some place else. The class room is a familiar place and after an entire semester of knowing you’ll talking about my feelings and thoughts in a familiar place wasn’t hard, but I could feel in within me that if I were anyplace else the chill of the weather (outdoors) or of the unfamiliarity wont have allowed us to have the same discussion.

weilla yuan's picture

December is a cold month. Even though sometimes the weather is sunny, it is still cold outside. I had thought about other inside meeting place, but no other place is more familiar to all of us than the classroom. Whoever enters first always knows to set up the chairs for the rest of us, and people come in later helps her do that. During the conversation in class today, everyone settled in their seats comfortably, and were all quite engaged. The familiarity of the classroom calmed people down, even though everyone came in with the pressure from the finals, the conversation we had was interesting and intriguing. Also, it is towards the end of the semester, although we had classes in so many other beautiful places, our classroom is going to be one of the precious memories in our college lives.