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PWR on the Loose: Outdoor Teaching in a Year of Transition

students sitting outside

Face me. 



No, actually turn around. 

Can you spin? 

Wait, not so fast! 

Can you spin while holding a mug on your head? 

Whoops, the mug had hot coffee in it and now it’s all over you? 

Perhaps you should have spun a tad slower. 

It’s fine–just go get a napkin already. 

Put the screen on and vroom, off you go

Careening into Zoom.

If this reminds you a bit of the madness that was Zoom university, I’m super sorry and should have issued a trigger warning in advance. However, thinking back on the endless pivoting and repivoting, spinning and spinning out of control, does help us reflect gratefully  upon this past year which despite its many challenges did allow us to be in the classroom, in person, hearing laughter, seeing each other in 3D (overwhelming as that can seem these days!), seeing students collaborating in groups without having to pop in and out of breakout rooms like a crazy person whose head has recently been on fire.

Being back in the classroom felt like joy and tasted like hazelnut chocolate. It sounded like a favorite song we had not heard in a while and were trying to remember the lyrics and tempo of, and yet finding the need to add new beats to update the tune to the new Rona dance that was all the rage now. One of the coolest new beats we saw added to our repertoire of pedagogical practices was creating some off-Broadway–er outside-conventional-classroom-space–opportunities for students and instructors to build community, collaborate, eat a snack with less fear of catching the Ro, and spend time healing in the great outdoors together! I saw PWR colleagues conferencing outdoors with students, holding classes and research mixers on the oval lawn, spread out over Meyer Green and the Law School terrace, and thinking deep research thoughts right alongside the Burghers of Calais.

PWR really was on the loose all over campus this past year with our colleagues redefining the classroom in fabulous new ways, healing together from the years we all lived in suspended animation, coming slowly but surely out of  a state of global fugue. 

Did I mention that it was glorious to see all the happy smiles in our outdoor classrooms?

Let me end with a line from Amanda Gorman: 

By Hello, we mean:

Let us not say goodbye again (“Fugue,” 2021)

From our colleagues:

Harriett: During the surge at the beginning of the quarter, I took the students outside for a couple days to get some fresh air and allay their stress. It helped a lot! And it gave the students a different context in which to collaborate on their work

Kath: "Classroom" became a loaded word when I saw the small, windowless space we would hold PWR in. Over the quarter, as I began to use outdoor space in several ways, it became a flexible term. By far the most successful teaching happened on walking conferences and office hours--in fact one student walked with me for a half hour after our final class just because. 

Nissa: Mutallip and I held a PWR 1 Research Mixer outside which was a big hit—I think being outside the classroom and standing up encouraged students to really circulate!

 Nissa and Mutallip’s Research Mixer

Outdoor research mixer

Outdoor research mixer

Outdoor research mixer

John’s Class: Taking the Table Outdoors 

Holding class outside

Holding class outside


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