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New UMass Dartmouth "classroom" requires no building

According to South Coast Today, the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth is kind of famous for its buildings: big hulking futuristic concrete structures (Wikimedia Commons has several great photos). But the school’s latest plans for new classrooms won’t require any concrete at all; rather, UMass Dartmouth plans to develop its 400 acres of “forests, meadows, and wetlands” into a “living classroom.”

“Develop” may bring about the wrong associations: the school’s plans for the land involve adding bike, walking, and cross-country skiing paths, plus signs that educate students and visitors on the various ecosystems present. All of this comes after an inventory of the land and enrollment in a forest stewardship program. Susan Jennings, director of the Office of Campus and Community Sustainability, noted that plans for the living classroom attempt to combine both environmental and educational best practices: “By showing people our managed forested plots and explaining our goals for them, we’ll teach lessons in sustainability that are easy to grasp on a small scale and make learning much more stimulating for kids.”

Use of the land as a teaching space has already started: political science professor Robert Darst and biology professor Tara Rajaniemi’s recent Sustainability on Campus class did there own inventory of plants and animals on the land in order to plan for the development. Their research not only identified invasive species present, but also pinpointed some changes that will help with ecosystem restoration. Removing several trees, for instance, will help bring swampland back to greater health, and even provide some funding for the project, as the university will sell the trees, and use the proceeds for developing and maintaining the living classroom.

Having taught at the college level for years, I know students just love hands-on learning. Combine that with land conservation, and the avoided costs of new building, and you’ve got (at least) a “win-win-win.”

Know of other campus sustainability efforts along these lines? Tell us about them… leave a comment below.

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Image credit: sundaykofax at Flickr under a Creative Commons license