Professors should require students to use D.C. as classroom more often

Rachel Armany, a freshman majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet opinions writer. 

When I applied to GW last year, one of the essay prompts that appeared on the Common Application was: “Research shows that an ability to learn from experiences outside the classroom correlates with success in college. What was your greatest learning experience over the past four years that took place outside of the traditional classroom?”

After reading and considering the question, I assumed that learning through service and travel was highly important to the GW experience. But when I got to GW, venturing outside Foggy Bottom for class was not as popular of an activity as I thought it would be. Professors should find more ways to utilize D.C. as a classroom more by visiting museums or other locations around the city.

As most students already know, there are many educational museums around D.C. that are free and open to the public with long visiting hours, like the National Portrait Gallery, the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian museums. Inside these museums are some of the most innovative and eye-catching exhibits that go beyond merely explaining history or culture as a textbook does by engaging viewers in interactive ways.

Although students are certainly aware that these museums exist, few regularly visit them. This past semester, I took a course on early American cultural history. One of the projects in the course required students to travel to any museum of our choice, select an artifact in the museum that somehow related to the time period we were studying and write a letter explaining how the course helped us analyze the object’s importance and context.

When I first read the assignment, I was taken aback by the fact that we were required to visit a museum, as I had seen professors suggest visiting certain exhibits for extra credit but never require it for a major assignment. After completing the project, I can now say that it was one of favorite parts of my first semester at GW. I went to the National Portrait Gallery for the first time and not only contextualized my learning from my history course, but saw other meaningful exhibits that I would not have otherwise traveled just to see.

I recognize that one major reason why many students do not visit D.C. museums is because it takes time to get to the National Mall and then to look around the museums. But just one trip per semester to a museum for a course is certainly manageable, especially if professors assign the trip far ahead. And if students are forced to go for a class once, they may be more likely to visit that museum or other museums in the future.

Admissions officials were right when they proposed that the “ability to learn from experiences outside the classroom correlates with success in college.” But for many students who make excuses to not visit museums and galleries around D.C. in their free time, requiring those visits for courses can ensure that students really do use the city as a classroom, as the University’s marketing materials promise.

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