Are Traditional Learning Environments Running Out of Style?
In their essay, “Recognizing Campus Landscapes as Learning Spaces,” Kathleen G. Scholl and Gowri Betrabet Gulwad argue that escaping the artificial lighting of an enclosed building and uniting with the outdoor environment can restore a student’s cognitive attention; consequently creating higher academic success rates, better mental health, and an increase in overall student happiness. The authors argue that while many believe in the traditional learning environment of an indoor, enclosed classroom, this historic way of teaching may actually be detrimental in properly acquiring information.
While many college campuses spend most of their time flaunting the amazing architecture of their classrooms and buildings, Gulwad and Scholl make the point that these indoor learning facilities may cause more detrimental than positive effects. If only “one fifth of a student’s time is spent in the classroom,” (Scholl) then the built environment surrounding the campus should be taken as an advantage to the university and its students. These closed environments inside classrooms don’t enable students to use their minds to their full capacities and “interaction with nature. . . can help to maintain or restore cognitive function” (Scholl) more efficiently.
Furthermore, in the past few years there has been an alteration to the layout of college campuses that has placed a large importance on “open space and ‘zones’ for disciplines” (Scholl) rather than the previously more popular “closely clustered buildings” (Scholl) layout. However, one of the main focuses and often the largest accomplishment a university seems to divulge is their libraries. College advisors take pride in these facilities, however there isn’t necessarily much credibility behind the satisfaction this structure provides. If as Scholl and Gulwad discuss, “urban stimuli typically lack the capacity to restore our direct attentional capacities effectively,” (Scholl) then these architectural structures completely counteract the primary principle of a library.
While these architectural structures make it easy to become lost among your surroundings and many believe the outdoor areas present in universities go unseen or unnoticed, Scholl and Gulwad believe awareness of our atmosphere become known as “involuntary concentrations” (Scholl). This coincides with the cognitive restoration that occurs when we are placed outdoors. When students cross the quad in the center of campus while walking from one class to another and see the trees surrounding them, this ends up “allowing the neural mechanisms underlying directed attention a chance to rest and replenish” (Scholl) without us ever being consciously aware that this is happening. The correlation between the outdoors and its restorative abilities further enable a student’s ability to focus on what they are studying allowing for an improvement in academic success and a decrease in stress.
As Scholl and Gulwad have argued, the effects a picnic on the quad or reading a book under a shady tree are far more effective in focusing a student’s attention on their studying than most common methods of teaching. Allowing students to be surrounded by a built environment also has an effect on overall mental health and it is crucial that colleges continue emphasizing these natural areas and turning away from the traditional classroom setting.
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