Sep 22 2020

What Technologies Do Colleges Need for Outdoor Classrooms?

Here is a look at technologies that can help create safe outdoor learning spaces.

As a growing number of college students quarantine on campuses across the country, mental health is becoming a concern. Because studies show that simply being outdoors can reduce stress and anxiety, it may be worth setting up outdoor Wi-Fi networks to accommodate students who must attend classes from a distance.

Several higher education institutions, including Millersville UniversityCalifornia Lutheran University and Eckerd College, have established outdoor spaces where students can attend virtual and in-person classes. In fact, Eckerd College did so in response to faculty demand. In July, the college in St. Petersburg, Fla., surveyed 100 instructors and found that 83 percent of professors expressed interest in teaching outdoors.

To make life a little easier for students — and to alleviate the concerns of at-risk faculty members who prefer not to teach indoors — let’s take a look at the technologies that can help colleges and universities set up safe learning spaces outside.

The Tech Campuses Need for Outdoor Wi-Fi

Before Millersville University brought students, faculty and staff back to its Pennsylvania campus, its IT department installed new wireless networks at several outdoor spaces, including MU’s pond and bus stops.

To ensure that students can take courses almost anywhere outside, the university invested in two Cisco access point technologies: the external antenna APs and wireless mesh.

The IT team also installed mesh antenna on taller buildings to give people wider Wi-Fi coverage outdoors. “Students can sit under a tree and still have good internet access,” Stephen diFilipo, MU’s CTO and chief innovation officer, tells EdTech.

Meanwhile, California Lutheran University has gotten creative with its wiring to boost internet strength in outdoor tent classrooms.

“Some of it is a little jury-rigged, with tying things off to a building and then draping it across a little corridor that now exists because of the tent structure,” Ryan Van Ommeren, associate vice president of facilities planning and operations at Cal Lutheran, tells University Business.

“This is part of an overall strategy of having a healthy environment on campus,” Van Ommeren says.

MORE ON EDTCH: Want to keep campuses safe from COVID-19? Protect the eyes.

The New Normal: Semipermanent Tent Classrooms with AV Tech

With no clear answer on when higher education institutions can return to normal, some colleges and universities view outdoor learning spaces as a long-term strategy for ensuring student and faculty satisfaction.

This is why Rice University in Houston has taken a more permanent approach with its outdoor classrooms. The university recently invested in a number of open-sided tents and semipermanent tents equipped with AV technology.

Although the semipermanent tents are enclosed spaces, which means they are not as safe as regular tents, they help the university create small, socially distanced classes and meeting spaces.

These could be smart investments even after the pandemic ends. After all, isn’t it nice to take classes outside on nice days? Outdoor classrooms are likely to remain a selling point for prospective students long after the risk of COVID-19 has passed.

This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.

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