Acadia University students have always loved having the opportunity to stroll through the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens, catch up with friends on a walk through the woods or sit and study under a tree. This year they are appreciating having the 6-acre botanical garden on campus more than ever. As the risk of transmitting COVID-19 is lower in outdoor settings, many professors have taken their classes outside for the fall term.
One such class is Environmental Education through the Department of Community Development, Earth and Environmental and Sustainability Studies (CODE 3563.) This class is being co-taught by Dr. Mary Sweatman and Dr. Alan Warner. With two professors they are able to divide their class of 30 into two groups and provide hands-on, in-person educational opportunities for their students every week. Students have been connecting with nature and learning about environmental education throughout the Gardens and the Woodland Trails.
When asked how the term is going Dr. Sweatman told us how much she appreciates having the opportunity to teach outside, “We all really appreciate the Gardens, they make a wonderful outdoor classroom space. We are so grateful to the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens staff for making the space so readily available for our class to use and enjoy. It has been a true nature sanctuary.”
When asked more about the course and how teaching outdoors has helped to enhance the learning experience Dr. Sweatman explained: “This course is based on the belief that environmental education for all ages is critical to moving toward sustainability, which requires fundamental changes in values, understanding, and behaviour. By hosting the course in nature, we can model experiential learning and place-based education practices. Over the course of the semester students have spent time sitting in vision spots, connecting and reflecting in nature. They have sat in circle, on the lawns and in the woods, discussing course readings, connecting theory to practice. Simply put, each week this course provides three hours of offline, nature time with a community of learners interested and invested in environmental education for a healthier, more sustainable world, and the Gardens have been a most gracious host.”
Third year Acadia student and Arthur Irving Scholar, Sarah Lavalee (BCD ESST, ‘22) told us how much she is appreciating this outdoor learning environment from a student perspective. “I feel incredibly lucky to have a class this semester that allows me to engage with my peers face-to-face in a beautiful, outdoor environment. This class has truly been a highlight of the semester so far, as it offers a much-needed break from screens and an opportunity to slow down and re-connect with each other and the environment.”
For more information on Acadia’s Community Development Environmental and Sustainability Studies program visit: https://environment.acadiau.ca/Welcome.html