Teaching Outside the Box

By Brooke Schultz
Elm Staff Writer

As technology evolves, so does the classroom setting. Students can access assignments, sources for research, and a multitude of academic resources with a click. While technology is incredibly helpful, it may also distract from the natural resources Washington College has to offer. Education doesn’t have to be limited to lectures, textbooks, papers, and exams. Many professors at WC are pushing for more classes to take learning outside to get a more hands-on look at the material students are studying.

The Chesapeake Semester is just one example of how WC is stepping out of the box in terms of education. About 10 students each fall have the opportunity to study the history, ecology, and culture of the Chesapeake Bay in person instead of just in a book.

Sophomore Nicole Blanco is currently participating in the Chesapeake Semester. Blanco and the group went on their first journey to historic Williamsburg, Va., Jamestown, Va., and Annapolis. According to Blanco, the Chesapeake Semester takes students around the entire coast, hitting every area of the bay, reinforcing what they learn in lectures.

Dr. Jennie Carr’s diversity and adaptation class recently visited the Chester River Field Station just outside of Chestertown. Above, an employee discusses bird diversity.
Dr. Jennie Carr’s diversity and adaptation class recently visited the Chester River Field Station just outside of Chestertown. Above, an employee discusses bird diversity.

Senior Kellie Rogers participated in the Chesapeake Semester her junior year and said, “In a classroom if you’re reading a textbook, you know a textbook is going to have facts in it, whereas if you’re talking to a chicken farmer, you can ask him why and really understand in general how things work the way that they do.”

The climax of the Chesapeake Semester is a two-week trip outside of the country, previously Peru and now Ecuator. Both Blanco and Rogers knew about the Chesapeake Semester when applying to WC and said that it played a role in them picking the College. Blanco said, “Other schools emphasized opportunities for students to do research but this school made the research more integrated into the class.”

The Chesapeake Semester is not alone in taking students outdoors for courses. Dr. Bill Schindler, associate professor of Anthropology, and Dr. Jennie Carr, assistant professor of Biology, also like to incorporate the outdoors into their lectures.

Dr. Schindler teaches courses on archeology, evolution, prehistory, history of food, and stone tools. According to Dr. Schindler, taking his classes outside provides an environment where it doesn’t matter if the class is being too messy or too dangerous. “We’re taught to behave and act a certain way in a classroom and we’re taught to get information in just one way, but when I try to teach in a nontraditional way in a classroom, sometimes it’s not as successful as when we get them out of that setting.”

Because of his background in education and archeology, Dr. Schindler always enjoyed being outside to learn, and he wanted students to do the same to get a better sense of what they’re learning.

Dr. Carr, new to the faculty as of last fall, teaches several biology courses such as diversity and adaptation and eco-physiology. In the past she taught courses on global warming, behavioral ecology, and ornithology. She tries to get all of her classes outside and recently took her diversity and adaptation class to the bird banding station at the Chester River Field Station to study birds and the effect global warming has on them.

Dr. Carr hit the ground running with getting students outside last fall when she first started as a professor. She said, “Especially for upper-level biology classes that focus on ecology and animals, it’s often difficult and not really advisable to spend all semester learning from a power point when you could go outside and learn firsthand.”

Going outside offers students a way to apply their WC education with their careers later in life. Dr. Carr said, “Going outside with classes is something that PowerPoints and lectures can’t replace.”

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