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University News

The Great Outdoor Classroom

Tents and canopies expand safe in-person learning options

Posted in: Homepage News, University

professor teaching a class of students outside under shade tents
Graduate assistant Dong Kim leads discussion in a statistics class outside the Center for Computing and Information Science.

Outdoor classes are a rite of spring on campus, but this year, instruction al fresco brings the added benefit of providing open-air, socially distant learning in a safe environment. The University has set up several tents and, as the weather improves, a number of classes are using them.

When NBC4 NY visited campus on April 8 to report on what the University is doing to provide in-person education while keeping the spread of COVID-19 in check, one of the classes featured was STAT 109: Statistics, taught by Klodiana Shkembi, program associate in Applied Mathematics and Statistics, and Course Coordinator Elise Lahiere.

Graduate assistant Dong Kim was leading a focus group session using hypothesis testing to compare statistics for two different groups of individuals. “We were discussing the statistical techniques needed to understand the outcome of the trial,” says Shkembi. “It is a very relevant topic since the COVID-19 vaccines underwent statistical testing using the same principles.”

Despite the occasional wind gust knocking over a whiteboard, Shkembi says the tents are working well and are successful in “keeping our students engaged in a safe way.”

Meanwhile, Shkembi, Lahiere and Kim have also optimized virtual learning methods. In fact, Shkembi says, “Some things are easier to do virtually. For example, we often use tables of statistical information, and in an online course, it is much easier to use and refer to the tables when working through example problems.”

Students under tents seated in folding chairs taking notes
Students attend a statistics class outside.

Other lessons, however, require physical presence – particularly when the course is Physics.

The students in PHYS 192, University Physics II, were studying “simple harmonic motion of spring and simple pendulum systems” outside Richardson Hall on April 8 with Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy Rodica Martin.

“We choose to do Physics labs outdoors in order to limit the time and capacity indoors, maximize air flow, and take every precaution to limit the spread of COVID-19,” says Martin. “And it seems to work very well for physics experiments.” Martin said that the tents, unlike a less formal outdoor situation, “helped define the classroom-like settings, and helped us reconnect with the regular lab experience.”

Despite some difficulties, such as talking through double masks, Martin says, “It feels good to return to on-campus activities, and students also seem to appreciate in-person learning opportunities. Overall the labs went well, and we will have the remainder of them the same way until the end of the semester.”

Close view of student assembling measurement devices..
Physics students study “simple harmonic motion of spring and simple pendulum systems” outside Science Hall.
Students working in tents during an outdoor physics class.
Rodica Martin, assistant professor of Physics and Astronomy, teaches students in PHYS 192, University Physics II, outside.
wide view of tent in sculpture garden between Science Hall and Richardson Hall
Physics study “simple harmonic motion of spring and simple pendulum systems” under tents outside Richardson Hall and Science Hall on April 8, 2021.

Story by Staff Writer Mary Barr Mann

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