Boston skyline with flowers and Citgo sign

Education beyond the classroom

Boston Now is a curricular initiative in Boston University’s CAS Writing Program that focuses on outside-the-classroom experiences and place-based learning. Every semester, students in our seminars explore a variety of sites and events throughout the city of Boston.

In Boston Now courses, when students read and write about Boston’s natural landscapes, public spaces, museums, and live performances in connection with traditional texts, they become more versatile thinkers, communicators, writers, and researchers.

Now has a longstanding connection to the BU Arts Initiative and is always eager to build connections with other BU faculty, initiatives, programs, and departments.

We welcome emails from faculty about potential Now courses and also from anyone with ideas for collaborating with the Boston Now initiative to further incorporate experiential and place-based learning into curricular and extracurricular opportunities for BU students.

History: Origins in Arts Now

Boston Now grew from an earlier Writing Program initiative, Arts Now, which was founded in 2012 by Master Lecturers Tony Wallace and Bill Marx. For their work, Tony and Bill were honored with the 2013 CAS award for excellence in undergraduate teaching. The two co-directed Arts Now until Tony’s death in May 2018. Bill continued as co-director of Boston Now until he retired from the Writing Program in May 2019.

With the support of the Writing Program, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the BU Arts Initiative, Tony and Bill first co-created The Theater Now, a seminar in which they took their students to Boston area productions and gave students the opportunity to engage with directors, actors, artists, and scholars. The passionate response to Theater Now inspired Tony and Bill to recruit faculty to teach courses in other areas of the Arts according to the Now model.

As Tony and Bill declared, “We want ‘Now’ courses to have a sense of immediacy, spontaneity, and contemporary relevance . . . ‘Now’ courses emphasize interaction with students outside the classroom in a way that is more academically substantive than simply taking them on a ‘field trip.’” Based on this foundation, students in Boston Now seminars engage with a range of Boston communities and discover diverse approaches for placing these outside-the-classroom experiences at the heart of class discussions and major writing projects.


Some courses that have been part of Now include:

  • The Theater Now
  • Boston Jazz Now
  • Poetry Now
  • The Short Story Now
  • Boston Animals Now
  • Playwriting Now
  • Boston Museums Now
  • The Novel Now
  • Boston Films Now
  • Irish Imagination Now
  • Boston Social Justice Now
  • Albums Now
  • Public Gardens and Urban Wilds: Boston’s Natural History

Connections to the Writing Program Curriculum

Boston Now courses use experiential learning to teach writing and research in Writing Program seminars. Students learn to analyze texts in various genres and also gain experience reading details observed in real time, such as the geographical characteristics of a landscape, the particular attributes of a stage set, the unexpected patterns in the behavior of an animal species, the subtle motifs in an architectural feature, or the spoken words of a performer or neighborhood resident.

Adventures beyond the classroom’s four walls inspire Boston Now students to engage deeply with particular disciplines and academic writing, yet also spark writing in alternative genres that transcends disciplinary boundaries. Exploring Boston also fulfills the Writing Program’s mission by using place-based learning to encourage students to cultivate habits of mind that prepare them to fully participate in the university’s intellectual life and in their future personal, professional, and civic lives.

The spirit of collaboration between Writing Program instructors nurtures Boston Now’s focus on the individual and the community. We aim to forge further connections within the Program, with the university, and with the many communities that comprise the city we call home. Most significantly, our collective work focuses on introducing our students to the boundless classroom Boston can be.

For questions, contact co-directors: Holly Schaaf ( and Allison Blyler (