Getting Outdoors Improves Cognition
With only a month left in the semester, both students and faculty may be feeling torn: There’s pressure to stay hyper-focused on work and meet deadlines, but the beautiful spring weather beckons and may be fleeting. Fortunately, these impulses aren’t mutually exclusive. Learning may actually be advanced by taking time to connect with other people, enjoy the outdoors, and/or get active.
Our students often experience studying as a lonesome and sedentary activity—they may spend hours poring over their notes or highlighting a textbook—but this approach to studying is about as effective as it is enjoyable (not very). Humans are social mammals who learn best in community and need frequent opportunities to talk through our thinking and consider new angles.
Simply shifting to a different context can give students a new perspective. Spending more time in nature promotes physical health and has many cognitive benefits, including increased attention, lower stress levels, and enhanced cooperation. Getting out of the classroom, dorm, or library to talk about their learning with classmates helps students to consolidate their learning, get feedback from peers, and reflect on the progress they’ve made this semester.
There’s a considerable body of research on movement and cognition. Exercise increases levels of neurochemicals like dopamine and serotonin that not only help to regulate mood, but also boost concentration. In addition, being more active can increase the volume of the hippocampus and cerebral cortex, areas of the brain associated with memory, executive functioning, and higher-order thinking.
As long as we are mindful of accessibility concerns and remain flexible, we can nudge students away from their desks and out into the world with assignments that ask them to do things like contribute to a citizen science project, produce a nature-inspired creative writing piece, or make observations about walkability on and around campus.
Students with mobility impairments can also benefit from physical activities that work for them, from changing their environment, and from connecting with friends and classmates to talk about concepts. Explaining the most important ideas from a class to a friend who’s majoring in something else is such a great exercise for all learners that it could be a regular homework assignment.
So spend some time outside, and consider encouraging your students to take a walk, ride, or roll with a classmate or friend to talk about what they’re learning. If you’d like additional resources, support developing assignments that get students outside, or any other support for your teaching, please contact us at email@example.com. We look forward to working with you!
Summer 2023 Course Design Institute
June 12th-15th | 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. | In person, lunch provided | Click to apply
CAT’s Course Design Seminar provides faculty with the time, structure, and support they need to craft transformative and inclusive learning experiences that reach and inspire their students. Course design and planning need not be lonely work; they are best accomplished in a community of peers who are similarly engaged. The seminar is a four-day series of hands-on workshops, during which faculty will hone their goals for student learning, plan effective use of class time, and work on sequencing and scaffolding coursework, as well as gathering valid evidence of learning. They will also work on strategies for fostering welcoming classroom climates and cultivating student motivation. Participants will gain:
- Structured support to (re)design a course for maximum learning
- Assistance and feedback on course design, including learning goals; assignment and exam design; effective use of class time; class activities; active-learning strategies, etc.
- Expertise in learner-centered teaching and backward design
- Strategies for motivating students
- Collegial community and peer feedback
Each faculty participant will receive a stipend of $2,000 upon successful completion of the course redesign. Seats are limited, and full-time faculty of all ranks are eligible. Priority will be given to courses that reach large numbers of students, and to applications from teams of faculty, either teaching multiple sections of the same course or courses that students take in a series. Participants must be able to attend all sessions of the workshop, complete pre-work, and submit final revised plans by August 1st.
You can apply through the link above. Please include a brief letter of support from your chair. The deadline to apply is Sunday, April 9th, and decisions will be made by Wednesday, April 12th. If you have questions about attending the seminar, please email us at pro-teaching@FSU.edu. We look forward to working with you!