February 25, 2015

The Walking Classroom

When a computer science teacher had his classes walk as he lectured, something interesting happened.

A professor in Sweden decided to take his students out of the classroom and into the field; now they walk as he lectures. By all accounts, the students approve of the change.

Olle Bälter was inspired by a study that linked creativity to walking.

Even those who tended to be too shy to speak up while in class began to contribute more in the less formal setting of the walking class.

The dangers of too much sitting have been well documented. According to the World Health Organization, physical inactivity is the fourth most common cause of death in the world.

So the computer science department at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden issued a physical activity challenge to its faculty that focused on the number of hours both teachers and students were sitting or were active.

Responding to the challenge, Bälter, a lecturer in the department of computer science, began conducting his media technology seminar by taking students on a walk through a wooded park near the Stockholm campus instead of having them sit in a classroom.

Classes held while walking brought both physical and mental benefits.

On the physical front, 21 of 23 students surveyed said that after the workshops they felt better than after typical sedentary seminars, and no one thought they felt worse. And intellectually, 17 of the 23 students said they believed that communication was better.

Bälter agreed: “Students feel freer to talk when they are outdoors than when they are in the classroom,” he said. “It is noticeable how much easier it is for individual students to express their views on these walking seminars…”

Even those who tended to be too shy to speak up in class began to contribute more in the less formal setting of the walking class. And 19 of the 23 students wished that more of their courses could be held outside of the classroom.

The dangers of sitting have led to walking desks and standing workstations. Now there's the walking classroom to join in the fight against inactivity. It's one way to combine education and fitness.

Naturally, walking classes are better suited to certain types of classes than to others, such as labs. But this small experiment does show how thinking out of the box can sometimes improve both health and the classroom experience.

The study [pdf] was presented at the Lund Institute of Technology eighth pedagogical inspiration conference. It has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, so its findings should be regarded as preliminary.

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