Yesterday I had the pleasure of conducting classes in a remote location of Tamil Nadu. This was part of a faculty development program on entrepreneurship and the only thing different this time around was the experiment of trying to conduct class at a location close to nature. We went there in the morning by bus and were soon in the midst of hills and thick vegetation. There was only brown and green all around. The air was filled with oxygen and silence. We had hens and goats roaming around, a little brook flowing behind and thatched classrooms. Our first session happened in the classroom. At tea break we sat on the benches under a tree and chatted. I proposed to the group if we could continue our session right there under the tree – the excited group (about 20 of them) agreed instantaneously. We moved a little white board and started.
That was my first ever class facilitated under a tree right in the open. No walls enclosing us, no technology like projectors, computers or speakers – just the 20 of us, a whiteboard, goats and hens.
We went on with our class till end of day. Since it started drizzling we moved back into the class for the closing session of about 30 minutes at end of day. Here are some interesting observations about the session and the experience:
- Not even once did anyone feel sleepy or drowsy even for a moment
- The whole class was discussion oriented without any technology distractions
- There were no inhibitions and no limitations via walls – made us feel open both physically and mentally
- Though the interactions were intense, they happened in a very light and informal setting
The validation that most of these were heavily influenced by the setting became clear when we found people becoming drowsy during the last 30 minutes when people went back into the classroom. No wonder then that our ancient Gurukula system happened in open spaces! Education needs to be as open as possible for it to deliver greatest value, and there seems to be no better setting to make learning happen than under a tree. Our ancestors (seers with great wisdom) had experimented and evolved these education methods. Hope we don’t lose out on our ancient wisdom.
Look forward to learning and teaching more in such natural settings. Think about it!